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We, the People

We are not the Resistance. We are not a small band of fighters, hunkered down, defeated, sending signals to the outer galaxy looking for help to arrive. We are, as my friend Shan Anderson wrote in a powerful New year’s Day “manifesto,” THE RESPONSIBLE MAJORITY.

Sit with that for a moment, folks: We are the majority.

Let us remind ourselves, as 2018 begins, that 74 percent of eligible voters did not vote for the man who currently inhabits the Oval Office. (This is not just to reiterate that the current president lost the popular vote but also to remind ourselves that in our much-vaunted democracy, half of those eligible to vote to do vote, even in a heated presidential election.) Also note that, although Democratic senators are in the minority right now, they represent the MAJORITY (53 percent) of American citizens.

And here is what we, THE MAJORITY, believe:

* 70 percent of Americans support women’s right to choose, the highest percent since Roe v wade was enacted. (Pew, January 2017)

* 64 percent of Americans approve of same sex marriage. This approval rating has been on the rise for years. (Gallop, May 2017)

* 73 percent of Americans aged 18-49, and 65 percent of all Americans favor alternative/ renewable energy over gas and oil. (Pew, January 2017).

* 68 percent of Americans believe humans are causing climate change. (Gallup, March 2017)

* 54 percent of Americans support the Affordable Care Act, this after a concerted and sustained onslaught of negative, mis- and dis-information. (Kaiser Family Foundation, August 2017)

* 60 percent of Americans are against building a border wall between the US and Mexico. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 55 percent of Americans oppose restricting immigration on the basis of religion—three guesses which religion we’re talking about. (CNN poll, February 2017)

* 89 percent of Americans believe all races should be treated equally. (Ipsos poll, September 2017) Yes, that number should be 100 percent.

Let’s stop licking our wounds. Let’s embrace our MAJORITY standing. Let’s use the power of our numbers. We are the people.

January 3, 2018   No Comments

The Power of Place

I am about to head off to my regular Wednesday shift at Food for Lane County’s Dining Room, a restaurant-style (as opposed to soup-kitchen style) facility that feeds up to 300 people a day. The people who come – many but not all are unhoused – sit at tables set with silverware and cloth napkins and are served hot meals by a volunteer wait staff who takes their order (meat or vegetarian? Full plate or—my least favorite request—no vegetables? Food allergies?), brings condiments, serves coffee and dessert. There is almost always live music.

I’ve been volunteering for close to four years now, and during that time I’ve thought a lot about the power of place. But until today I’ve thought only about the power of The Dining Room in the lives of the diners, the momentary oasis provided by this calm, warm, friendly, non-soup-kitchen place and the effect this has on those who sit and eat.

There is the blessed experience of sitting in a warm place on a cold day, sitting in a dry place on a wet day. There is the immeasurably enriching experience of being acknowledged not avoided, being looked at not looked away from. There is being asked what you would like. There is being told yes. There is being served. There is the comfort of a full stomach. There is the experience of being in a place suffused with politeness and respect.

Today I am thinking about the other side of this power of place: The power of The Dining Room in my life. This is a place where I get to work along side good people, not “do-gooders” who are oh-so-proud of themselves for their little volunteer gig, but upbeat, hard-working, good-humored people who care about other people, who care about their community, who transform compassion into action, who are in it for the long haul.

It raises my spirits, however low they may be — and they have been lower this year than ever before – to spend time in this place. It nurtures my belief in my fellow humans. Being surrounded by good people makes me a better person.

 

December 27, 2017   2 Comments

What if I regret leaving the comfort zone?

Here is an interview I just did with B3 magazine. The magazine is sponsoring a book giveaway right now. Visit the site!

One of our favorite things about ringing in the New Year is that it’s an annual reminder to shake things up in a big way. But as refreshing as grand-scale changes can be, they can also feel paralyzingly daunting—and that makes for prime negative-self-talk territory (Who am I to think I can do this? What if I fail? What if I regret leaving my safety zone?).

If you can already hear the doubts creeping into your New Year’s goals, stop what you’re doing and read our interview with Lauren Kessler, author of Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts, and My Midlife Quest to Dance the Nutcracker. When Kessler decided in mid-life to pursue her dream of dancing in the famous ballet, she could have found a million reasons to talk herself out of it. Read on to find out how she dealt with the negative self-talk, why it’s important to embrace change no matter what your age, and how making one big leap led to another even bigger one. (Kessler’s story is so powerful that Sadie gave a copy to each B3 studio owner when it first came out!)

B3 MAGAZINE: What advice do you have for someone who is considering changing course a little later in life?

LAUREN KESSLER: Simple advice: DO IT. Challenging yourself, making changes, leaving your comfort zone, raising the bar on your own life is exhilarating. Yes, also undeniably scary—but it presents an extraordinary opportunity for growth. Creating and embracing meaningful change “a little later in life” keeps you vibrant and vital, curious and interesting, humble and in learning mode—in other words, youthful. It’s not that you shouldn’t think hard about making real changes, but you can think yourself out of it. You do not have to be convinced that you can be successful, only convinced that you can bring energy, passion, and commitment to the endeavor.

B3 MAGAZINE: A lot of women reach a point in their lives when they want to take a leap, but sometimes they don’t know exactly what that leap is. Can you talk about how you landed on dancing in the Nutcracker as your big leap?

LK: Dancing in The Nutcracker was a big leap, not THE big leap. My reasons for choosing this challenge were complicated. I had loved ballet as a child and been told I had “the wrong body” at age 12. That statement by my (very famous) ballet teacher has resonated in my life for four decades. I wanted to revisit that, silence that negative self-talk so deeply embedded. I also wanted to confront and test the cliché “you’re never too old to___________.” Could I, in fact, get my mid-life body into shape to dance on stage with a professional company—or are there some things it really is “too late” to do? (Enter barre3, by the way. That’s how I did it.) As a writer, I embed myself in worlds I know little about and try to learn from that experience (and reveal it to readers). So another reason I chose The Nutcracker is that I was fascinated by not so much the world of ballet but the world of artists who give up so much for their art. The dancers I trained with, danced with, and befriended had very little other life than dance. I wanted to explore that level of passion and commitment.

B3 MAGAZINE: Negative self-talk is masterful at keeping us from trying new things. Can you talk about the negative self-talk you experienced, and how you quelled it?

LK: Aside from the “you have the wrong body” self-talk, there was also “you are too old,” “you will embarrass yourself,” “who do you think you are?” and “stick with what you know” self-talk. In fact, the self-talk was deafening. It was, at times, louder in my head than thinking. So…what did I do?

Instead of telling myself it was stupid and self-defeating to talk to myself this way (translation: I was stupid to think this way = just another form of negative self-talk), I carefully listened to each statement, pretending a close friend said these things about herself. How would I respond? My response to my “friend” who tells herself she has the wrong body? What a second, you have a strong, healthy body. It has seen you through 100-mile bike rides, killer mountain hikes, and three pregnancies. Wrong body? Ha! And so forth.

I am not sure it is possible to erase negative self-talk. For me, what works is creating positive (actually far more realistic) self-talk that speaks louder.

B3 MAGAZINE: Do you have any advice for people who want to make a change but are experiencing pushback from their loved ones?

LK: This is a very hard question, mostly because I cannot imagine someone who truly loves you standing in the way of life-enriching change. Or rather, the only way I understand this is to think this person is scared, too. You are scared to make the leap. The loved one(s) are scared this change will be threatening to the existing relationship. Talking through what you want to do and why you want to do it, what it means to your own growth, how this may enhance and deepen the relationship because it deepens you—this might help quell these fears and transform the pushback to loving support.

B3 MAGAZINE: Did taking this big leap give you the confidence to do other things you wouldn’t have considered before?

LK: Oh my, yes. I closed the door on a job that had become a black hole in my life (as in all the energy I put in got swallowed up). I had inhabited this job for a very very long time and had convinced myself it was central to my self-worth (and net worth). It wasn’t! I cannot fully express what a great decision leaving was. And how scared I was to make it. I am more creative, more focused on what matters, happier with myself and my work than I have ever been. I have learned to lean into the “yes.”

December 21, 2017   No Comments

#NotMe

Well, yes, of course, my ass has been goosed by strangers on the IRT. (Whose hasn’t?) And I once worked with a guy (now a big-shot lawyer, then neither) who made eye contact only with my chest when we talked. (I countered by staring only at his crotch. This made him uncomfortable. Our conversations became infrequent.) But in all my years of working in mostly male-dominated workplaces with (except for three years) male bosses, I have never been sexually harassed. I have never been groped, pawed or touched anywhere questionable. It has never been suggested that I perform any acts other than the ones I was hired to perform.

As I read about all the women (and girls) out there who have experienced sexual harassment in its various awful and disturbing forms, I’ve had these reactions.

ONE: Jesusfuckingchristohmighty, isn’t life tough enough without going out of your way to be an asshole? Are there really these many men who lack basic decency, civility and respect? Are there really these many men who believe they are entitled to manipulate, belittle, demean, harass and violate women?

TWO: What would their mothers say? Or their sisters? (I’m not including “wives” because I don’t want to imagine that these men, after doing what they do, after saying what they say, actually come home and show their faces to a female human. Or a male human. Or their dog.

THREE: Wow am I ever lucky! I rejoice that I have had the great good fortune to have worked with non-harassers. As if this is “good fortune” rather than what should be normal, everyday life. As if simply not being a victim is a reason to rejoice. Yay! I went out into the world today, and no one masturbated in front of me or pressured me to carry their baby in my womb! Life is sweet.

And, I am so very sorry about this one, FOUR: The full weight of the sexist culture crashes down on me and I actually think, if only for a moment: What, I wasn’t pretty, sexy, alluring enough to attract this repulsive behavior? What’s wrong with me? Unbelievable, right? The flipside of I was raped because my skirt was too short.

So I guess, after all #metoo.

December 13, 2017   3 Comments

Becoming inVISIBLE

A few nights ago I suffered through one of those seemingly interminable, low-level stress dreams that sometimes afflict me. This one was about losing my purse. I was standing at a counter picking up tickets for a performance of (you guessed it!) The Nutcracker. I placed my purse on the counter and momentarily forgot about it while involved in the ticket transaction. When I looked over, it was gone. Thus ensued a long, boring, stressful search for purse. After watching me hunt high and low, an employee told me he removed the purse from the counter and put it under a desk. Great, I said. Thanks.

But the employee did not want to give me back my purse until I “proved” it was mine. I had to detail for him, quite precisely, various items in the purse. I would tell him one thing—my key chain—and he’d then ask for another. My Snap Fitness entry card. My packet of g.u.m soft-piks. My ear buds (What brand? he asked. I didn’t know. He frowned.) My Swiss Army knife. What else? What else? This went on for a long time. Finally he let me have my purse. End of dream.

I thought about the dream a lot during the day. It could be just a generic stress dream. But the more I thought about how it felt to have to prove that what was mine was mine, the less generic and more meaningful the dream became.

The meaning? Here goes:

It seems to me that I am now at a point in my life when I shouldn’t be required (or forced) to “prove” my identity, or prove my own worth to others (like the guy in the dream). I have grown into who I am. I have spent a number of decades growing and learning and doing what I do. When I was younger, a bright young penny who knew so little, who understood so little, I was noticed, and the light shone down upon me. Now, knowing so much more, having done and lived and learned so much more, I join the ranks of the Invisible and the Overlooked, the ones — we “older” women — who have to prove we still have it. About whom it is assumed that we have settled into complacency, that we do not burn with creativity and passion, that we are not ignited by new ideas, that we are no longer vital and vibrant and alive.

Guess what, you overlookers, you nay-sayers who put up barriers, you sexist ageist assholes (and especially those who pretend they aren’t)? You couldn’t be more wrong.

And also: FUCK YOU.

December 6, 2017   4 Comments

Tell me a (Nutcracker) story

(American Ballet Theatre/ Brooklyn Academy of Music)
No sooner do I settle myself in when a big guy, burly, bald and beer-bellied, starts to squeeze by to take the seat next to me. I get up to move. “Naw,” he says, dripping Brooklynese. “Doan move. I ain’t as trim as I usedta be, but I’ll get by.” And he does. Then, after catching his breath, he engages me in conversation as if we’re old friends. In the less than five minutes before curtain time, I learn the following: His name is Victor LaRossa and, except for two years in Vietnam in the late 1960s and nine months in upstate New York when he tried to “find myself aftah my first marriage,” he has lived all his life in Brooklyn. He’s never seen the Nutcracker or any ballet. His wife – “hey, Joanie, meet this nice lady,” he brays to the woman on the other side of him – got the tickets from a woman whose kid the wife takes care. “But cultcha, ya know. It can’t hurt,” he says. I love this guy. This guy is why The Nutcracker is the most popular ballet in America.

(New York City Ballet/ Lincoln Center)
At intermission, the elegant lady sitting behind me asks, in a southern drawl, whether I am reviewing the ballet for a newspaper. She has observed me scribbling notes during the performance. She’s just in from South Carolina to take her daughter, an NYU film student, to see the performance. They’ve been “nutcrackering” together, as she puts it, for twenty years, including four years when the daughter was a mouse in the local production. “I worked back stage,” the mother tells me. “I loved every minute of it,” she says. The daughter leans into her mother, gives her a little shoulder bump.

(JFK-SFO)
The next morning, hoping to beat the worst of a snow storm that seems to have followed me since Chicago, I am on the plane out of JFK headed for San Francisco. Sitting next to me is a handsome, strapping guy wearing worn, top-quality cowboy boots. It turns out he is a national rodeo clown. Who’s seen the Nutcracker. (Of course, I ask.) His mother took him to a performance by the Tulsa Ballet Company (he grew up on a ranch outside of town) when he was twelve. There’s more. He took his first girlfriend on date to the Tulsa Nutcracker. “I bet that impressed her,” I say. “Well,” he says, in that laconic way cowboys have, “it was kind of a goodbye present. I broke up with her the next week.” I’m thinking: If a rodeo clown sitting next to you on a plane has a Nutcracker story – actually two — Does that mean everyone has a Nutcracker story?

excerpted from Chapter 1: The Binge
Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Mid-Life Quest to Dance The Nutcracker. Now in paperback!!

 

November 29, 2017   No Comments

We are not the worse of us.
We are the best of us.

Amid the rancor and fear, the bitterness and contempt, the unleashed anger and ginned-up anxieties, the harassment, the hate speech, the disrespect, the deplorable choices and dishonorable actions, the violence, the amorality, I want — I need — to remind you, to remind me, there is goodness and generosity in us. There is compassion and good will. There is understanding and empathy. There is kindness.

For the past two and a half years, I have been facilitating a writing group in prison. The writers are all serving life sentences. They all did terrible things. In writing about their lives, their experiences, what they have learned, how they have changed, what they hope for, they tell me, almost with one voice: I do not want to be known only for the worst thing I ever did.

And that’s how I feel about my country right now. I do not want us to be known only for this hate-filled moment, for this resurgence of bigotry, for this mockery of values, for this worst thing.

I want us — you and me, our communities, the millions of our compatriots — to be known for our best instincts and our best intentions, for the everyday lives of inclusion and kindness we live, the rich, diverse, multicultural communities we foster and inhabit, for what we teach our children, for those actions that speak louder than words: the shelters and clinics and food banks we support, the legislation we fight for, the way we stand up for who we are, the rights and reforms we dedicate ourselves to, the deep and enduring connections we forge with each other, with The Other.

The most well meaning of us have done wrong. We have said yes when we should have said no. We have said no when we should have said yes. We have remained silent when we should have spoken. We have self-medicated rather than face our own shit. And worse. There are those who do not mean well at all, and the damage they have inflicted and continue to inflict to individuals, to families, to communities, to our country is so scary, so painful, so disheartening that it is easy to give up hope. But we are not the worst of us. We are the best of us. This is what I am giving thanks for on Thanksgiving 2018.

November 22, 2017   2 Comments

Let The Nutcracker season begin!

The Troyanoff Ballet Academy is a single-studio dance school, a storefront wedged between a dry cleaner and a pizza joint in a Long Island strip mall. My mother drives me there, twice a week, Tuesday and Thursday after school to take classes with Professor Troyanoff and his seriously arthritic wife, Madame Troyanoff.   They were Russian dancers of little renown who left the Motherland between the two world wars. My mother calls them “white Russians” to distinguish them from the Reds, this being the Cold War.

The distinction is lost on me. The inelegance of the Academy is lost on me. I am six, seven, eight, nine, and what matters is pulling on pale pink tights and a black three-quarter-sleeve leotard in the tiny dressing room no bigger than a closet, sitting on the bench on the side of the studio and carefully slipping my feet into soft leather slippers. What matters to me is standing at the barre: first position, demi-plié, plié, relevé, second position, third, fourth, fifth; tendus, battements, rond de jambs, arabesques; and later, in the center of the room, glissades, the thrill of the grand jété. What matters is dancing.

The Professor is a kindly middle-aged man with a handsome fleshy face and a luxuriant head of silver hair who wears snug t-shirts, billowing trousers and black leather ballet slippers. While he instructs, his accent so thick one or another of us has to ask him to repeat, again and again, his wife, stern and crabby, stalks the studio leaning on a cane. When one of us gets sloppy, when our grand pliés are not grand enough or our turn-outs are not turned out enough, she raps the back of our legs with the cane. It doesn’t hurt as much as the idea of it hurts. I learn much later that her ballet career in the old country crippled her before she turned forty.

The Professor loves to choreograph. He puts together bits and pieces of what my mother tells me are the classics, each little dance ending in dramatic grand tableaux with all sixteen or eighteen or twenty of us young dancers striking and holding poses. The Academy presents two parent-pleasing recitals a year held in whatever elementary school the Professor manages to persuade to host us. I love the music. I love learning the steps. I love the costumes, the lavender tutu edged in silver with matching silver-sprayed ballet slippers…

from the introduction to my book, Raising the Barre: Big Dreams, False Starts and My Mid-Life Quest to Dance the Nutcracker, to mark the publication of the PAPERBACK edition and the start of yet another Nutcracker season.

November 15, 2017   No Comments

One year later: Fear. Hope.

I wrote (and posted) this one year ago. Our fears–including some we didn’t know we had a year ago–have been realized. BUT SO HAVE OUR HOPES.

I am afraid.

I am afraid of what he will do, a man full of anger and ego, a man who lashes out, who mocks and bullies, a man who respects no one, a man who has never served our country in any capacity.

I am afraid that he deeply deeply misunderstands what being “great” means.

I am afraid of the damage he can easily inflict, and has promised for the last 18 months that he will: the obliteration of the Affordable Care Act; the nomination of a Supreme Court justice – undoubtedly two, maybe even three – that could make the overturning of Roe v Wade a reality; a retreat from any attempts to deal with climate change, which he has publicly declared is a Chinese scam to weaken us; the passage of xenophobic, Draconian immigration policies that destroy the heart and soul of what does, in fact, make American great. And I could go on.

He is a bombast, a loose cannon, a cheater who has gotten away with it, who has in fact become a billionaire doing it, and has now become the next President of the United States doing it.

But more than anything else, I am afraid of us, of my fellow Americans, the millions and millions of people who voted for this man, who listened to him make fun of the disabled and brag about his sexual exploits and call Mexicans rapists and crooks and promised to close our borders to all followers of Islam, a man who embodies the worst of us, the most fearful, selfish, angry worst of us.

And yet, at the same time, I trust my tribe, my millions-member, cross-continental, multi-generational, multi-cultural tribe of forward-looking, diversity-embracing, open-hearted women and men who will do what we do, what we know how to do, what we have been doing, what we must now do with greater commitment: Work with rekindled energy and overarching kindness to make our communities safe and welcoming, help those who need help, protect those who need protection, embrace and learn from those who want to be a part of us and add to the richness and texture of our culture. I trust my tribe who believe in and live the precepts of social justice. I trust that, after we have absorbed this shock, after we have cried and hugged each other and talked through our fears, we will carry on, with renewed vigor, with fierce love, with unshakeable commitment. Because this is what makes America great.

November 9, 2017   1 Comment

Living with disasters, Iceland style

On the narrow, two-lane “highway” that skirts the southern coast of Iceland there are big, illuminated signs that track and report wind velocity. As Jón Ágúst, a quintessentially unflappable native Icelander explains, when the wind blows at a certain speed (the measurement is in meters per second so I’m not even going to bother to give you the stats), it is difficult to keep a car on the road.

When the wind is somewhat stronger, it is “not advisable,” he says, to be on the road. Even stronger wind can whip up gravel, pebbles, even rocks from the surrounding lava fields, creating a geological hailstorm that dents the bodies and breaks the windshields of cars whose owners chose to ignore the illuminated signs (or were Americans who could not do the meters to miles/ seconds to hour conversions). Jón Ágúst points out a new patch of asphalt on the road. It is, he says, a repair job after an “especially strong wind” sent chunks of asphalt flying, ripping up an entire section of the road.

Now the highway is paralleling a bridge, a very long bridge. “That’s the longest bridge in Iceland,” Jón Ágúst says. The bridge is not in use nor, as far as I can tell, does it bridge anything. “There used to a river there,” he explains. The river was formed during one of the country’s many volcanic eruptions and glacier runs. Then, during another of the country’s many volcanic eruptions and glacier runs, the river changed course. “But who knows,” says Jón Ágúst. He offers a hint of a smile. “We might need that bridge again some day.”

Why do I recount this for you? Because it speaks to the Icelandic attitude toward the vicissitudes of life—and boy do these people have vicissitudes—which stands in direct opposition to our Disaster! Catastrophe! Crisis! mentality. These people experience volcanic eruptions, lava flows, glacier runs, geological hailstorms, raging rivers, killer winds, deep freezes, financial exigencies, the fall of their government—which occurred with barely a ripple when I was there—and they make it through. They take care of business. Which is to say they don’t panic. They don’t cry “disaster.” They batten down the hatches; they look after their neighbors; they watch for sneaker waves; they stay off the road. They respect the volatility of their environment. They know how to survive. They know how to care for those who don’t.

October 4, 2017   1 Comment