Return to Normal, Actually Try Mindfulness, Tie Up Loose Ends, & Avoid Internalizing Others’ Emotions

Return to Normal

Monday: Returning to work finally after a two weeks of being out sick, actually felt like relief rather than ‘back to the grind.’ I was eager to catch up on projects I’d had to neglect, and return emotionally to a sense of normality. Fortunately, my coworkers were happy to have me back, and my boss voiced such appreciation of me that left me stunned. I’m lucky enough to believe that the fondness for me in the office was healthy to begin with, but my reception back recalls the adage, “absence makes the heart grow fonder,” and fortunately, the feeling was mutual.

Actually Try Mindfulness

Tuesday: Dealing with the all too physical manifestation of stress for the last couple weeks, I’ve started trying to actually practice mindfulness exercises I’ve read in magazines, or heard about on TED Talks. The one that I recalled the easiest today was to ask myself where I am in the moment as a practice to stay grounded. I found it most helpful while driving, or when I got too engrossed in a project that I’d begin to find myself tensing up physically in my desk chair. Whenever I found myself mentally either too engrossed in a task, or tripping over one worry and landing into another in my solitude, I would stop mid-thought, and ask myself silently the simple question, “where am I?” I’d answer something like “I’m in the car. I’m driving to rehearsal. The moon is barely visible. It’s a pale blue.” Or, “I’m at work. I’m writing an article for the E-Zine. My back aches,” and I’d stand up and stretch. The practice was very useful, in that it made me focus on my needs, and see whatever inconsequential worry I was allowing to take hold of me, in a new, removed perspective, realizing the majority of them likely wouldn’t matter in a matter of days, let alone in five years.

Tie Up Loose Ends

Wednesday: I’ve been fortunate enough to be tasked with a couple new gigs recently, One little writing gig, contributing to an author’s promotions for his published book, and starting up with a company that does HR Consulting and Training. Having been immensely busy, I needed to finish up the first project before embarking on the new. So today, happiness meant working overtime to tie up loose ends. I began at a Panera, which got increasingly crowded closer to the dinner rush– guess I’m not the type to be able to work in a cafe just yet. So, I took advantage of having rehearsal directly after, and found a quiet spot at the theatre to continue my work. I finished the project that night after rehearsal. Relieved, I was ready to start on the next.

Avoid Internalizing Others’ Emotions

Thursday: Being more prone to empathy than the average person can be a gift, but often is something I’ve had to learn to temper and minimize. I am easily affected by another person’s stress, bad mood, or anger, and with lifelong practice, I’ve improved slowly in not internalizing others as much. When I was younger, the practice applied to friends, and, lately, I’ve had to learn to do the same with my coworkers. In such a small office, the tiniest snafu is felt throughout, and the teeniest sigh of exasperation echoes. Today, I tried to become more aware of when this happens to mentally remind myself that I cannot solve other people’s problems for them , as much as I would like to, and that my own responsibilities come first, which are a weight that is already heavy enough. Rather, what is in my power is to be kind and supportive, and to help once my own duties are accomplished, which are my first priority. In analyzing this problem at work, I realized how it permeates throughout my entire life currently, including my life working with other artists in my off-time. I’m going to start applying this helpful perspective regardless of setting. I need to focus more on the health of my own inner life, which is really the only one I have any control over.

 

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There’s an App for That, Temperance, & Set Building


There’s an App for That

Friday: After dealing with my recent health issues, and learning that they are all rooted in stress, I started to pay more attention to the daily activities I thought were indulgence, which are in fact actually stressing me out. The no-brainer was my inability to unplug from social media, the news, and the endless mindless clutter that engorges my phone. I had a thought– what if I changed my habit from doing something mindless into something productive? My habit flared at night before bed, which is horrible, even with my phone in night mode, because my head would end up spinning about the ills of the world right before I was supposed to be sleeping. I thought about how I might better spend that time in between saying goodnight and actually sleeping. I thought about what I’d like to accomplish. My family is Greek, and is hoping to visit Greece in the new year. It’s been nearly a decade since I’ve been last, and in each time I’ve been lucky enough to get there, I haven’t spoken hardly a word of the language. Being less self-conscious to make mistakes compared to eight years ago, now seemed like a good time to try. I decided to look up any apps to learn Greek casually on my phone. Fortunately, I found an awesome app that is very user friendly, starts out as free, and then charges for upgrades (hopefully it’s less expensive than Rosetta Stone). I figured, with approximately a year before I’m out there again, I could at least be able to say Good Morning. Fortunately, learning a couple words before bed means I remember them in the morning, and conveniently, it helps me fall asleep.

Temperance

Saturday: Today we had an unconventional rehearsal for the playhouse, rehearsing in our set designer’s back yard, in bathtubs, in the 90s, due to the fact that our surrealist set is comprised of three claw-foot bathtubs, which are too large to store in the theatre during a production in progress. We rehearsed under a party tent to shield us from the sun, and ran around the set, in and out of tubs, wishing they had water in them. After the rehearsal, the cast was invited to a mutual friend’s house for a welcome-home get together. Realizing I was in desperate need of a night out, I couldn’t refuse. Having just been diagnosed with IBS, I knew that drinking would have to be minimal, minimal by the extreme. So today, happy meant practicing temperance. I spoiled myself with one full cocktail, made special by our host with homemade honey simple syrup, called a Brown Derby, a prohibition-era drink associated with speakeasies past.  I sipped on that derby the entire evening, and indulged in a sip of a friend’s cocktail for a taste. Temperance paid off tenfold that night digestively, and again in the morning, which could not be wasted.

Set Building

Sunday: Up bright and early to contribute to doing what I love: A Set Build. From ten in the morning til three in the afternoon, we hauled, lifted, dragged, stacked, and dumped everything from the closed show into it’s designated place, and then hung, screwed, pulled, lifted, and pushed everything for our next show onto our stage. Our show is starting to get its feet!

 

 

Clean a Crawl-Space

When I awoke, it was nearly noon, and a calendar alert chimed on my phone– “Help K. Move.” This was the final hurrah, the last weekend to help my friend reinvent herself in her new home, no small feat for a woman with the remains of what was once a very full nest to sort out. A week ago we moved boxes enough to fill a 5×7 storage locker to the brim with supplies for the theatre, and now we needed to clear out the rest of the house.

Assuming I’d be the only one there, I knew I was in for a doozy. So I strapped on my Keds, wore some beat-up skinny jeans, and a loose tank, ate some leftover pizza for breakfast and drove over. An enormous moving truck was sitting outside, a 20 foot dumpster in her driveway. Overdue by nearly 15 years, this was the purge.

I parked and walked towards the house, reassuringly packed with our theatre tribe. It was a relief and inspiring all at once. One member even brought his three sons, ranging from 12 to 23, all sweet hearted boys.

We all tackled the house, taking assignments from the President of our Board of Directors like we do at the theatre: upstairs, downstairs, new place, Goodwill. We were all in and out of the house in synchronization, placing things according to their next destination.

I was assigned the downstairs, which my group completed all except for the laundry, and the crawl space. I went upstairs to have some lunch and water, and asked my friend’s sister, “So what’s the ruling on the crawl-space?” Her tiny body retracted all it was made of in horror, “The crawl-space?” She shuddered, “I am NOT going in there, that’s all of her ex’s old stuff and I will not touch it. Ohmygod dead things must be in there, that stuff’s been sitting so long.” Clearly prone to her own kind of dramatics in parallel to her sister, I texted K. “Crawl-space?” She said “All of it’s garbage.”

“I’m on it.”

I shouted up the stairs to the second floor, where our group had migrated since the other half was on their way to move her in to the new place. “Hey! I’m heading downstairs to the crawl-space, so if you don’t hear from me in a while, check.”

“The crawl-space?!” Her sister shouted, “You’re NUTS.”

And off I went. Grabbing a pair of working gloves off the kitchen counter on my way down. I started to pull things over the edge of the space, clearing out the initial loose items, boxes of mugs, camping gear, tarps, and then came across far more heavy boxes that couldn’t be pulled. I’d have to climb up into it.

I shrugged, “No dead things so far.”

I vaulted myself over the crawlspace wall with the help of a sturdy shelf, and landed into a mesh of small tan stones. I’m not very familiar with crawl-space lingo, but an accurate description came from the 12-year-old, “It looks like a giant cat litter box,” which he articulated upon finding me contorted in the basement.

“What are you doing down here? Or, I mean, up there?” He asked.

“No one else can do it, so I’m doing it,” I explained simply. He looked at me like I was crazy.

“Can I help?” his little voice a hopeful squeak.

“Sure thing! Can you grab some garbage bags?”

And off he scampered upstairs only to come down waving a bag through the stagnant basement air making “swoosh” sounds. “Here you go!”

He held the bag while I shoved the garbage of yesteryear down into it. What took more doing were rotted Craftsman tools, apparently from the distant past, the box they were housed in eaten through and broke upon lifting, tools scattering into the litter box. But with his moral support, sense of humor, and ability to make it up and down stairs in lightning speed, the litter box was cleared, and I managed to fit it all right into the dumpster.

As I walked through the house, the walls emptying in stages, I noticed a penciled growth chart of K’s two sons scratched on the wall by the foyer. I took a picture. ‘Something she’ll want to keep.’ Her life has been the definition of chaos this last year, and something like that I wasn’t sure if she’d remember that she’d want it in this last minute rush of a short-sale.

I stopped to reflect on the day, all the objects that summed up her life in this house. All the objects that were donated, or just thrown away, once bore memories, memories meaningful enough to squirrel away in hiding places, lacking feasible use, but still retaining an essence too great to throw away, maybe even saved for another generation. It occurred to me why, in addition to the chaos, my friend had waited so long to let us in to help, this outcome impending for the last year. Emptying her house, every nook and cranny made bare, is seeing my friend at her most vulnerable, her house the expression of her living heart. This was the place she made a home and reared her boys with limited help, the place she kept a home for them to return to when they flew the nest, the empty nest she filled with homeless animals. This was the place now to be flipped over and emptied, gallons of water dumped all at once into a mason jar.

Happy today meant tackling the crawl-space, the cavity of the basement with all his things. Things I could touch without cringing. Things I could throw away with no remorse. The memories rising from the dank dark into consciousness, for me only dust.

 

 

Go Swing Dancing!

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Finally, Friday. After a gratifying day at work, I tepidly looked forward to an evening of swing dancing. When the time came, like most with a leaning towards introversion, it took some doing to jazz myself up for the evening, but once I had rolled up my white dress shirt’s sleeves, and tied the tails at the waist in a knot, I felt instantly sexy, and instantly ready to enjoy myself. All it took was a little retro glamour and some winged-tip eyeliner.

I arrived downtown early, and took some time to sit on a city bench on a bridge. The moon hung over the river, glowing white, and trickling down into the water. After placing myself in the present moment, I approached the theatre.

I tentatively stepped into a darkened foyer that led into a hall, dimly lit by a popcorn machine. Beyond the dark were double doors that led into another concert room. I looked for a way upstairs, as that was where I needed to be. I was directed to the end of the hallway, where I found a greeter in a bright red vintage uniform, and an elevator emblazoned with an Art Deco design, “1926.” I was told the password to get into the Speakeasy, and was sent to the third floor.

As if synchronized, the elevator opened and my jaw dropped. The reception to the speakeasy was glowing bright reds and golds, relics from the 1920s scattered lovingly on end tables, couches the femininely curvy aesthetic from a beautiful and tumultuous time, heavy port red curtains cascaded from high windows. As the uniformed staff, in glitzy flapper dresses and sharply cut velvet jackets welcomed me, I felt rude to be speechless in return. I apologized awkwardly, and was directed to my table.

The Rockabilly band had already started, and they were electric! The band was costumed in their 1950s and ’60s throwbacks, while the dance floor was a blend of eras, ages, and nationalities. It was a beautiful sight to behold. Awkward young ones new to swing, and new to courting, coo’d sweet ‘oopses’ to their partners, elderly couples letting completely loose, low kicks and twirls, bright smiles glowing with old memories and present happiness. Everyone was dressed up, some to the eights, and some to the nines! Some in hoop skirts, others in flapper dresses, and the men looked dapper in shirts and ties, some in vests, and even oxfords and winged-tip shoes.

I sipped on the signature Prohibition Red, one of my two required items with no cover charge to see the band– and what a sweet deal that was! Later I followed it with a classic dirty martini– don’t forget the bleu cheese stuffed olives.

Between dancing, I chatted with friends old and new, five fantastic people. We all have our unique crazy, we’re artists, and we accept each other, one of the most genuine acts of love. I danced with my girlfriends, my guyfriends, and new friends, laughing and tripping and spinning on the dancefloor.

A new friend I’ve made in the recent weeks reminded me the importance of forgetting the oppressive ‘how’ in dancing. Our first dance, I felt stiff, and afraid to disappoint him, he a born dancer. Afterwards, when I voiced my lack of proper steps he reassured me that proper steps were over-rated. Our next dance was the exact opposite, the gentle reminder to relinquish control all I needed to lighten my touch on his hands, and let him gently angle my wrist in the direction of a spin, the movements coming naturally to the beat of the music. I shook my hips and raised my arms above my head, like a scene from Dirty Dancing, barely able to withhold the same chutzpah in a public place.

This community of dancers more than welcomed us. With a deceptively young twinkle in his eye for a man in his fifties, one patron enthusiastically approached us saying, “You two were a joy to watch!” And, upon formal introduction, he inquired as to what dance we had been doing, “Was that the Jitterbug or the Lindy Hop?” We laughed, it was apparent we knew the basics, but tonight we had been overwhelmingly making it up as we went along. He smiled broadly, generously adding “Well you two are great! Hope to keep seeing you around!” As the night wore on, everyone in that Speakeasy was on the same page, the audience whooping and hollering decibels inspired by liquid and unified courage.

“God, I love humans,” I whispered as we sat at our table, sipping our reds. “Yeah?” He asked, seeming to already understand. I crescendoed, “I love them so much that I HATE them when they hurt each other.” He laughed, endeared at my passion. He nodded. Breathy, I sighed, “When I can’t dance anymore, I’m gonna be the old lady sitting in that corner, sipping my martini, enjoying everybody.”