Dancing is when you tear your heart out and rise out of your body to hang suspended between the worlds. ~ Rumi
People who know me well know I dance wherever I go. Because I’m always shaking and shimmying, people think I’m showing off. I’ve been accused of wanting attention.
The truth is I can’t hold still.
Dancing is my oldest coping mechanism. Before there was art or writing, there was dance.
These days, I dance at the gym. All the time.
I can’t help it. Whether I’m in the dance studio, the weight room, or the treadmill, I simply have to move.
Dancing is who I am.
(I may have forgotten about my body for a while, but I’m back in it now. Full force.)
Yesterday, I was talking to a trainer at the gym who told me I exude “amazing positive energy.” He said I appear confident and happy and like I have it all together. Even on Facebook, he said.
“If that’s true,” I said, “how come no one talks to me? Or asks me out?”
“You’re intimidating,” he said.
It’s a terrible irony. Stunning really.
To fill myself up, I dance…but because I feel comfortable in my body, I end up isolated because people see me as unapproachable. Intimidating.
It’s a weird kind of “splitting.” The world does not see me as I truly am. They don’t see me as insecure, or wounded. The world doesn’t see how I’ve been hurt. It’s invisible. It’s always been like this, and I think it’s why I often feel so misunderstood.
As a kid, many of my teachers had low expectations for me. My intellect was neither valued nor appreciated. But I‘m not stupid. I’m smart and ambitious. I have aspirations, and I continue to move in the direction of my dreams.
Learning about the way I am perceived helps me realize I have to work hard to be seen and heard. I suppose this means I’ll spend the rest of my life swirling in circles, squawking out my desires & scribbling out my words in hopes of being better understood.
For a period of years, I exchanged letters with a boy. He was smart, and I felt flattered by his long-distance attention. I loved the way his words looked on the page, and after devouring the content of his letters, I would stare at his penmanship. His handwriting was distinctive; long, thin strokes in the “T’s” and “L’s”; his vowels undersized, tiny and tight. Very controlled. My “P’s” and “L’s” wanted to loop. My vowels were large and open, like my heart.
During this period, I focused on composing the best letters I could. I explained – dissected – deconstructed and reconstructed the world for him in an attempt to get him to see things through my eyes. I showed him the beauty of the cigarette butt left on the filthy street corner and wondered about the woman with the orange-red lipstick who had held it in her mouth. I addressed my envelopes, licked my stamps, sent my poetry and prose. And since there was neither instant messaging nor Skype nor Facebook nor email in the 1980s, I had to wait . . . and wait. . . and wait for the postal carrier to (finally) bring me a long anticipated envelope. And always his responses were wonderful: filled with answers and more questions, more observations which led to more thinking, reflecting, writing.
Through our correspondence, I fell in love. With words. I learned how, in English, multi-syllabic words have a way of softening the impact of language, how they can show compassion, tenderness and tranquility. Conversely, I learned that single-syllable words could show rigidity, honesty, toughness, relentlessness. I saw how words could invoke anger, sadness, lust, and joy. As an adult, when speaking, I sometimes feel like I did not say quite the right thing. But when writing, I have time to be careful, to ponder, to find a new way to say something old. I can craft something magical.
I have always said that the best writing is born in obsession, rooted in a specific place.
My favorite word is “apricot” because it invokes a specific sense of smell, of taste and touch – but for me, it also reminds me of a particular morning in a particular place when the sun rose and made the world glow. It is a juicy word. A sweet word. A golden word scented with summer. I use the word “apricot” to show my students how one image can hold a lot of weight.
Some day I will thank that boy who made me want to revise, who made me want to give him only my best, most delicious words, my most ferocious images. Wherever he is, I hope he is still writing, too.
What are your favorite/least favorite words? And what do they evoke for you?
It’s been a long time since anyone has wanted to interview me about my writing.
Or maybe they wanted to, but up until recently, I wouldn’t have been able to oblige. As many of you know, I suffer from PAWS – post acute withdrawal syndrome – as a result of improperly weaning off Klonopin, a powerful, physician-prescribed anti-anxiety medication. Initially, my brain was so damaged that I couldn’t walk or talk. Worst of all, I couldn’t read and I couldn’t write. At 44 months off, I’m doing nearly everything I did prior to the injury. It’s just…harder.
I met AJ during August McLaughlin’s Beauty of a Woman BlogFest (#BOAW2017), and we liked each other’s writing style. Also, we kinda thought we may have dated the same weird-psychopath for a minute there. We didn’t. (((wipes brow)))
I’m truly humbled to be recognized for my writing.
It’s been a long time since I’ve identified as a “writer” – but I must confess, I’m back to it again.
If you’d like to read the interview about my new creative process, click HERE.
Do me a favor.
Leave a comment.
I’m on a diet, and instead of chocolate, I’ll devour your words.
As a gymnast, I was taught it was necessary and possible to be as close to perfect as possible.
As a teacher, I strove to create perfect lessons.
As a wife, I tried to make a perfect home, tidy and warm and well decorated.
I aimed for perfection as a mother, too.
I’m not saying this perfection thing is a good thing.
I’m just saying, I tend to go for blood be outcome-oriented.
My son works differently.
(You guys remember TechSupport, right?)
When he was younger, we had plenty of conversations where I’d ask him about how he felt about his performance in some athletic endeavor or something.
“I learned a lot,” he’d say and shrug, as if to add, No big deal, mom.
Anyway, because I’m feeling pretty dang good, energetic and cognitively clear, and because I’m coming back to life and feel invested in living again, I’m aware that one of my less pleasant character traits has reared its ugly head.
Yup, my competitive nature flared today.
I found myself thinking that I need to be better.
That I need to take more art classes and sell more products, get my work into more boutiques, be bigger-er and more famous-er, that I need to be the best artist in the whole world.
But how does a person “win” at art?
When I paint or draw or create something, I’m 100% in the moment – much the way I am when I look at a field of sunflowers, enjoy a coconut ice cream cone, take a dip in the ocean, or feel a lover’s mouth against my own.
Embarrassed by my own thinking, I decided to meditate on it and, after a while, I realized that I’ve been holding onto a misperception.
I was taught to believe that one’s work is only as valuable as the money one receives for doing that work.
I think a lot of us grew up with that ethos.
It’s an old belief.
And old beliefs die hard.
These days, I operate under a completely different set of beliefs.
The Universe has a plan for me.
The Universe wants me to do what I love.
When I do what I love, the money follows.
The Universe can change its plans for you at any time.
Apparently, the Universe wants me to do 3 things: paint, write, and help people who are coming off psychiatric medications.
(they need to know the body really does know how to heal.)
So that’s what I’m doing.
Tonight I’m shrugging my shoulders and laughing.
And realizing I need to dial back my intensity a bit.
It’s all coming together.
I don’t have to have it all figured out today.
(thank goodness, because i soooo don’t.)
I know the Universe has big plans for us all in the new year.
Can’t wait for 2017 to begin.
What ONE thing do you believe the Universe wants you to accomplish in 2017?
As a child, I was supposed to keep my room neat. My bed needed to be made the moment I awoke each morning; hospital corners were not optional. My clothes were to be folded and put away while they were still warm. Fortunately for me, I excelled at neat.
I remember watching the 1976 Summer Olympics with my father. Sitting next to him on the couch, I wore a yellow leotard. He pointed to Nadia Comenici as she waved to the crowd after earning her first perfect 10.0 on the uneven bars.
“You see!” my father said. “Being perfect is possible.”
In my house, failing was not an option. No one told me it was okay to mess up. No one ever said people learn by failing, by falling, and getting up again, that it takes a different kind of strength to persevere despite sucking.
I learned that sucking brought misery. When I sucked at trigonometry, it meant I had to complete endless math problems written on the back of placemats at restaurants until the meal arrived. Feeling my father’s frustration comingled with his disappointment, by the time our food came, I often felt like vomiting.
“It’s not that hard,” my father would say.
But it was that hard, and I didn’t get it. And I hated feeling dumb.
I learned if I sucked at something, I needed to avoid that thing at all costs.
So I stuck to my strengths and only tried the things at which I could excel.
You want someone to sing or memorize lines? Awesome. Need a crafty-critter? No problemo. I can make pinch pots and macramé, turn beads and fishing lures into jewelry. Watch me sketch and draw and paint fearlessly in watercolors and acrylics and oils. Need a dancer?Check out my smooth moves. Seriously, I can hustle and shimmy and shake my groove thing. I can twirl and do pirouettes. I can do back-flips off the diving board and handsprings on the lawn.
In 2nd grade, Mrs. Church told I could write. She loved a story I’d written about a red-breasted robin, and she made me to read it to the “big kids,” in a different wing of the school. Later, Mrs. Oliver told me a poem I’d written moved her. It moved her. In middle school, Mr. Baron drew three big stars in my notebook next to the words “squishy red beanbag chair on the lime carpet.” Three stars.
I dreamed of being a writer.
In college, I received attention and praise, earned awards and validation from my professors.
I felt like a magician, able to amaze people with my words.
In December 2012, I found a writing partner. We worked together for six months, sending each other pages of our fiction manuscripts to read. We provided feedback for each other. I poured myself into her project, believing that – eventually, she would give mine the same kind of love.
Last May, I took a hiatus to prepare for my son’s bar mitzvah. My writing partner knew this when we started working together. I reassured her I would be back in the saddle after the festivities ended.
“I’ll be here, pardner,” she promised.
When I called to let her know I was ready to start collaborating again, I caught the hesitation in her voice.
“I had so much momentum, I couldn’t stop! You know how that is, right?” she said. And then she told me she’d found a new person to work with.
My legs shook when I hung up the phone.
Besides feeling abandoned and betrayed, I felt like her actions said something bigger about my abilities as a writer.
The cosmos provided me with the words. I read between the lines.
My writing must have really sucked.
Because if it didn’t suck, she wouldn’t have been able to stop working with me. She wouldn’t have been able to put down my manuscript.
I didn’t have anything backed-up, and I lost everything: twenty years of teaching curriculum, twenty years of photographs, decades of poetry and short stories.
A non-fiction manuscript. And a fiction manuscript.
For most of my life, people have made me believe I could do magical things with words. But this past year, I’ve felt like someone took my black hat and my cape and my wand. Like someone stole my white rabbit.
Suddenly, what had always come naturally for me has became dreadfully difficult.
I’m not going to try to explain the theory behind this kind of therapy. Let’s just say EMDR is often used with individuals who have suffered major traumas, sexual or physical assault, combat experiences, accidents, the sudden death of a loved one: any kind of post-traumatic stress, really. But EMDR therapy has also been used to help athletes, performers and executives to achieve a state of “peak performance.”
If facilitated properly, EMDR helps people replace negative or stressful thoughts with positive ones.
Or something like that.
During my first session, VJ took a detailed history where we focused on what I perceived to be the major traumatic events in my life. I thought about the things I’ve been through in my 45 years on this planet and realized I had a lot from which to choose. She demonstrated a breathing exercise, which was familiar to me from my experience with yoga.
Then she had me hold these little buzzing paddles, which felt like cell phones set to vibrate.
Apparently, some therapists have clients track flashing lights but, over the course of her career, VJ said she’d found pairing the gentle, rhythmic buzzing from the paddles with conversation just as effective.
On my third session, Vickijo instructed me to put the buzzing paddles under my thighs, and she asked me to tell her about what I perceived to be my strengths as a writer.
I couldn’t think of one.
Unfazed, VJ asked me to close my eyes and describe a writer I admire. I thought about one particular blogger. “She can write about anything. She has amazing range: sometimes she’s funny; other times, she’s serious. She uses fresh images. She knows how to tell a story so it is unique and yet universally true. She responds to everyone. She’s generous, and her audience loves her.”
“You can open your eyes,” VJ said, so I did. “Do you think you possess any of the same qualities as this writer?”
I wasn’t sure.
Earlier in the session, I had talked about how much I sucked.
VJ asked me to think of an affirming sentence to replace my negative thoughts.
It was hard.
The voices were loud in my head.
“Let’s start with: ‘I suck,’” Vickijo suggested. “Can you turn that on its head?”
I closed my eyes and feeling the slow, rhythmic vibration of the paddles under my thighs, I saw myself sitting at a table, eating words. I literally ate the word ‘apricot’: chewed on it and swallowed, while my hand moved, scribbling letters inside a black and white composition notebook. I saw all the words I’d ever written in my life penned on a cozy fleece blanket and draped over my shoulders. I read the words I’d written on the lined paper.
“I’m a writer,” I said.
Except when I said it, there were eleventy-seven question marks at the end of the sentence.
“You’re a writer,” VJ said it as a statement. “And what does that mean?”
“I don’t know,” I shrugged. “For me, writing is like eating or pooping. I can’t not do it. Whether or not I ever publish a book, I’m always going to write. It’s what I do.”
Vickijo laughed. “And that’s because?”
“I’m a writer.”
When I said it the second time, I believed it a little bit more. Weird, right? I have a hard time explaining how or why it’s working, but it is. EMDR combined with 5 minutes of daily meditation has been doing wonders for me.
And my writing.
I’m feeling less compelled to be perfect.
In fact, perfect hasn’t even been on my radar.
I know it sounds whack-a-doodle, but the science supports this stuff. It’s incredible to me to think we have the ability to reprogram the way our brains have been hardwired to think. If you have suffered a trauma — or any kind of anxiety — EMDR can really help.
A few months ago, I would have felt like a bad person because my bed isn’t made, I’ve got a sink filled with dishes, and very little food in the refrigerator.
But today? I’m soooo not.
Here’s a video I found on YouTube that does a good job explaining EMDR, if you are interested.
Have you ever heard of EMDR? If you’ve tried it, did it work for you? What do you think about the idea of reprogramming your brain to think happier thoughts?
Last year, Tech went to overnight camp for a month. When he got home, he ate and slept. And then he complained that I hadn’t written enough.
You guys, I wrote a lot of letters.
Seriously, I wrote one every other day. That’s 14 letters, if you round down.
My son claims some kids received mail every single day.
This year my son is going to overnight camp for the entire summer.
That’s seven weeks, people.
I don’t have enough going on in my life to write him a letter every stinkin’ day. I know what you’re thinking: use your imagination. Believe me, I sent that boy plenty of creative letters, but there’s such a thing as burnout.
Plus, I’m old-school in that I believe there’s nothing better than a good old-fashioned letter. One that someone wrote with his or her own hand.
Those types of letters take a little longer to craft.
So I’m appealing to you, my friends from the blogosphere. You’re readers and writers. You’re funny and smart and creative. You have pens and stamps.
This year, I’m begging asking you to write my kid a handwritten letter.
Partly because I think it’ll be hilarious for Tech to receive letters from people he doesn’t know.
But also because I’ve noticed how few people send letters anymore. Sure, we have email, mobile phones, and Facebook, but sometimes it’s nice to go to the mailbox and find something with your name on it.
ALSO, IT’S TIME FOR A CONTEST.
Here’s what you do to enter:
Write a letter of any length, appropriate for a 14-year-old boy.
It must be handwritten. Typed letters will be disqualified.
It must be legible. Please print neatly.
It must be pretty. No boring white paper. Be creative.
Send the letter to me between now & July 31, 2013. If you send it after that, I won’t be able to get it to Tech in time as U.S. Postal Service to camp is wicked slow!
When I receive your letters, I’ll steam open the envelopes to check out the submissions. That’s right, I’ll review each letter for originality, creativity, and visual appeal before forwarding it to the boy at camp.
WHAT’S IN IT FOR YOU?
I’ll feature my favorite letters on my blog, and include blurbs about their authors.
One of you stands to win best letter writer. That person will win a $25 gift card to somewhere awesome.
Tech isn’t in the dark. He’s agreed to respond to the winner. In addition to sending a handwritten letter to the winner via U.S. mail, I’ll post his illegible, yet handwritten response on my blog.
When writing a kid at camp, there are 3 rules.
Rule #1: Don’t be sad. Never tell your child that you are missing her so much that it hurts. That’s a disaster. And if your kid writes to say he is homesick, don’t get all hyper and tell him you’ll pick him up. Oy. He’s just venting.
Rule #2: Don’t be scary.At overnight camp, kids are completely cut off from the outside world. They really don’t know what’s going on, so it’s not funny to say the family pet died. They don’t need to hear about shootings or death or illness. A zombie apocalypse isn’t funny when you are away from the people you love.
Rule #3: Be funny. Camp is fun – and your letters should be too. Tell stories. Take a moment from your day and embellish it like crazy. When I write to Tech, I try to entertain him. Suggested topics: 1) girls, 2) Minecraft, 3) fencing, 4) Euchre, 5) technology (since he won’t have any), 6) tips on how to live with mean kids, 7) tips regarding how he can keep track of his socks.
If all else fails, tell him about what you used to do when you went to camp.
Unless you set things on fire or got girls pregnant.
In which case, don’t write about that.
If you’d like to write a handwritten letter to Tech while he’s at summer camp, please indicate your interest in the comments section. I’ll contact you with the necessary information. Don’t wait. You know what happens when you wait.
I’ve been thinking about how grateful I am to all the writers who wrote posts as part of my Lessons Learned series this year. Each post has been beautiful; each lesson, unique.
Author Elena Aitken is the last writer in this series. And her piece arrived at precisely the right time for me. Because I am struggling with some serious writer’s block. Elena’s words are the greatest gift I could have ever asked for this holiday season.
After you read her piece below, you will want to follow Elena on Facebook or on Twitter. Take a peek at her website if you’d like to subscribe to her blog. Her newest book, Hidden Gifts, would make a great present. Just like your words were to me today, Elena.
• • •
Pushing Through by Elena Aitken
When Renée asked me to write a piece for her Lessons Learned series, I said yes without hesitation because sure, I’ve learned a thing or two over the years. I mean, I must have something to offer. No problem, right?
Then it came to write it.And nothing.
A gentle nudge from Renée, “Don’t forget. You promised. Um, can I get that soon?”
“Oh, don’t worry,” I said. “I’m on it. No problem.”
But…it was a problem. The thing is, ever since Renée asked me months ago, I’ve been thinking about what I would write about. I read all the other posts, and…I worried. I mean, what on earth was I going to say? What could I offer that this talented list of writers and bloggers hasn’t already said with more skill and grace then I could hope for?
I made notes. I stared at my computer screen. I started writing five different posts. I deleted five different posts.
And then, I worried some more.
I couldn’t think of a thing. Was it possible that I haven’t learned any lessons at all?
I was moments away from emailing Renée to tell her I’d changed my mind, and I couldn’t do it after all.
And then, there it was.
That voice in my head.
“Trust yourself,” the voice said.
Hearing voices in my head isn’t unusual for me. After all, I’m a writer. I hear voices all the time.
But, I’ve heard those two words before.
• My dad said them when I was learning how to ride a bike.
• Ms. Montgomery, my junior high drama teacher, said them before I went on stage to perform my monologue.
• My mother said them when my twins were newborns, and I didn’t know the first thing about being a mom.
• My writing partners scribble them in the margins of my work when I’m wrestling with a scene, or a character that just won’t cooperate.
• My friend and training partner will say them to me when I’m nervous about a race and doubting my training.
• My husband says them to me when I’m struggling with a tough decision.
That voice in my head is a beautiful medley of all the voices from my life and its tune is constantly changing. But the message remains the same. And every time I hear those words, “Trust yourself.” Whether they are spoken aloud or quietly in my mind—I do.
Because I might not have the right answer, I could make the wrong decision, say something stupid, trip and fall, or make a mistake. But I might not. And when I shut out all the noise telling me what I should say/do/believe, and actually trust myself; it turns out that I know myself a whole lot better than I thought I did.
So, maybe I’m a slow learner, or maybe it’s a lesson worth learning over and over again, but it’s the most important lesson that I continue to learn.
What helps you push through to complete a project?
I know. I know. It’s been a while since I’ve done a mash-up.
But big stuff has been going on, people.
See those birds up on that tree in my neighbors’ backyard? That means Frankenstorm is on the way. Seriously? The one year that my kid actually made a plan, bought a costume, and I actually purchased candy in advance? And we’re going to have a major storm? Are you kidding me? We’d better have some people at our door. Or else I’ll be going door to door tossing candy in everyone’s mailboxes. Sorry USPS. You guys lost the package I tried to send my niece and nephew last year, so I figure you owe me one.
Oh, and check it out! Look at the bottom right hand corner of that photo! I learned how to put a watermark on my pictures! So there’s proof that you can teach an old dog new tricks.
With that, here is some delicious stuff that I read this month in no particular order.
• • •
Le Clown wrote about All Hallows’ Eve. And it is freakin’ hilarious. If you don’t know Le Clown On Fire. He’s from Montreal and he’s magnifique. Like all the time. I know he’s a clown, but don’t be scared. He’s a good clown.
Leanne Shirtliffe (aka: Ironic Mom) shared a powerful tip about the power of acting crazy. I can vouch: everything she says works in and out of the classroom.
Editor for Writer’s Digest Books (& a trillion other things) Chuck Sambuchino wrote a fabulous & terrifying article at Writer Unboxed about how to really interpret those statistics you’ve got on your blogs. I’ve never seen anything like his analysis before, and I have to tell you, it is humbling. Find out if you are notable, impressive or very impressive. Then prepare to curl up in your corners.
Alexandra Rosas of Good Day, Regular People is a writing machine. But her three-part series called Red Flags was something else. And October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Guess what? Every month should be. Start at Part I. You won’t be able to stop.
On a lighter note, I know she said the deadline has passed, but I’ll bet that Jules’ would totally take late entries for her Halloween Hat Contest at Go Jules Go. (If you don’t, I’m gonna win. Or not.)
Tech savvy folks still have time to enter my contest to make me a header. Just do it. You know you want to. Now that I know how to make a watermark, I mean, there is a chance I might figure this shizz out all by myself.
People often ask me how I come up with my topics.
They ask if I ever suffer from writers’ block.
They ask if I will post naked pictures of myself.
But no one has ever asked me why I decided to start this blog.
All rights reserved. Excerpting portions of posts and/or linking them is encouraged, provided full and clear credit is given to renée a. schuls-jacobson with proper attribution via hyperlinks directing folks to the original content. Duplication in whole or substantial portion of this site or any component is not permitted: neither is reblogging.