Friday, October 14, 2016

Why Starting a Desi Seniors' Writing Class Feels Like Home

On Wednesday, I drove 50 miles from Oakland to Cupertino to present my writing program, “Reflections: Your Story, Your Way”, which will help seniors write some of their experiences down for themselves and loved ones, to 100 seniors at the India Community Center.


On the long drive down, I went over my speech. Practiced it in English and Hindi, willing myself to just do it in Hindi, who cared if it wasn't perfect?


The building was non-descript on the outside, but rounding the corner to the parking lot, I caught a glimpse of an uncle in a crisp kurta-pyjama-vest and Nehru hat entered the building and I knew I was in the right spot.


The seniors at ICC take their programming very seriously. Wednesdays is open mic day. Anyone can come up and speak, sing, recite poetry, it’s all possible. When I arrived, the program was in full swing. The auditorium was packed, and onstage, a woman sang a beautiful melody.


The auditorium itself was out of a film: a Hobbit meets Game of Thrones meets Alice in Wonderland sort of a room with wood paneling, red carpets, and at the center of each wall, a tall, pointy throne like chair amid the other normal chairs.


A sea of elders, elegantly draped in saris and kurtas and shalwar kameez, sat upright, mesmerized by the melody. I was mesmerized by this alternate universe I had just entered.


While the open mic went on in the auditorium, the dining hall was in full preparation for Diwali. In one corner, rehearsals for the Mahabarata. In the other, dandia practice. Large groups of elders participating in both categories for the upcoming celebrations.


I’ve always dreamed of going to India. That day, India came to me.

                                                              ~~~~~

I discovered the ICC a week after I moved to California. Every country I've visited- Korea, Trinidad and Tobago, London- I've found a desi connection. I’ve been a member of the ICC and a teacher there for 9 years. The Cupertino branch was new to me, however, and I wondered what the reception would be like.


Here’s what it was like:


As I hung out in the large dining hall waiting for my turn to present, people who did not know me smiled. Open, welcoming. A handful of my students from the other location were there and raced across the room to hug me. Told their friends about me. So then strangers came up to me and said, "You're Phi. You're a great teacher." I felt a tight grip on my waist as I spoke to a small crowd of aunties, when from behind, another student embraced me tight.


I told them about the writing class I was there to launch and they nodded eagerly. “We need that.”


I was invited to have coffee and the westernized part of me was like, “I’m on a schedule, yo, I want to present and peace out.”


A vague memory of my time in Karachi came to mind: I visited the Dawn Newspaper HQ to do research for my novel, and was first invited to have tea with the contact person there. We sat in his office making small talk and my brain was bursting: “Why is he offering tea? I had tea at breakfast. Why are we making small talk? We’ll never meet again. I just want to do my work and go.”


But this is how you roll in South Asia. Or with South Asians in - anywhere.


And so this time, I accepted. Made small talk. Accepted the offer for lunch later. Said goodbye to anything else I had planned for the day. This was important, a small voice told me, face time is important. Chill the F out.


When it came time to present, I went back into the Hobbit Hall.


“This is Ferozey,” said my contact person to the crowd, desi-fying my name right on schedule. “She’s Parsi, from Karachi, and a marvelous person.” [we had met an hour earlier, but this hyperbole is also part of desi-ness].


I got up on stage. And for the first time in my life, I did not read from any notes. I just spoke. Because I knew what to say: this is the story of my life.

                                                              ~~~~~


Why do I want to teach South Asians how to write some of their life experiences?

Because my own grandparents’ stories, which I’ve listened to and written down for 20 years are my most prized possessions. Because these stories are my connection to my home, my culture. They are the link between my east and my west.


I also love working with and hanging out with elders. I am an old lady at heart, always have been, so it’s very easy for me to discuss the merits of Grace Kelly vs. Leslie Caron or Julie vs. Audrey in My Fair Lady or...sorry.

My Nana and I
But more than that, having always always been close to my grandparents, I have a deep sense of what this time of life is like. It is hard. It can be isolating. It can feel very … less? Small? You can’t do the things you used to even though in your head you’re 17 or 40 or whatever. But your body is different, it’s betraying you and slowing down. You need more help. It’s hard to ask for help. From your children, who you’ve always helped up to now.


If you’re fortunate, what you do have is your mind. Your memories.


Elders love to talk. For many, like my grandma, it’s the one thing that is 100% functional. Where your eyes and hearing may fade, for many, the mind is razor sharp.


I can feel, when I speak to my Nani on the phone (every night), her energy lift half-way through our call. I know what my time and attention mean to her. What our conversations mean to me.
Nani and I
                                                              ~~~~~
How amazing that as my life's path becomes clearer, I see that it's all stemming from the most important relationship in my life- the one I share with my grandparents.



Everything I have observed and gleaned from Nani-Nana over the years informed my experience at the ICC that day. The energy that the seniors got from each other. From me. I could almost feel this feeling of, “Oh wow, a young person is spending time with me.” It means a lot. I know elders often feel neglected and forgotten by their own families and this contact with young people means the world to them.

I get an energy from them too. I haven't quite figured it out: some of it is about connection, a remembrance of my childhood. There is also something about speakingUrdu/Hindi, this language which isn't my first or second but a chose third. When I speak it, I feel a rod of energy run through my frame. Makes me feel like all of me is engaged, not just the western part of me.

There is something about knowing the needs of a group of people, an oft-overlooked group of people, and knowing I have something to offer. I have seen for years how much the seniors dance class I teach means to my students. Why not writing too? I know how to modify dance moves and writing lessons. I truly believe that anything can be modified, made accessible, with a little care.


My decision to do my speech in Hindi also stemmed from my interactions with Nani Nana. Though they both speak fluent English, I always feel more connected to them when I speak Gujarati. I have spoken to them in Gujarati for about 15 years (after a total break for close to 10 years when we first moved to Canada) and over time, it’s improved (ish) and become more second-nature. So I just had this feeling that speaking Hindi would create the same connection with this crowd. Not that they didn’t all speak English, but more that connection, that gesture and what it implies.


(And because, let's face it, I don’t look desi. I always have this fear of not being accepted, of being thought of as some tall lanky Mexican invading a desi space)

                                                              ~~~~~

Normally when I make a speech, I read from carefully planned notes. On this day, my notes remained in my bag. This wasn't a speech. This was my life's story. I talked about my relationship with my grandparents. What Nani-Nana’s stories mean to me.


“This is my most valued possession,” I said, holding up a non-descript notebook. “Inside are his music lessons from 60 years ago, raagas, natak songs.” The audience murmured appreciatively. "I was so honored when he gave it to me, out of the whole family. It is my most prized possession."


“Inside this book, I found an essay he wrote,” I continued, pulling out a yellowed sheet of paper.
Nana is the handsome one on the far right


I talked about the essay my Nana had written who knows how long ago. It begins with a retrospective of his illustrious cricket career. “In a match of Sindh v. West Indies, I scored 48 runs in 22 minutes,” I read, to a loud gasp of amazement.


And then a slight he’d received from some of the cricket community. How hurt he’d been.


“I shed a tear,” I read from the essay, nearly shedding a tear of my own. “And then he talks about how he overcame this slight and realized how much cricket meant to him despite everything.” I put the letter down. “This essay shows me not just my Nana’s accomplishments, which I already knew, but his character. How honorable he is.”


Vigorous nods. Grunts of appreciation.


I meant every word, and I knew they were eating this shit up. I told you, I speak fluent Elder. Because I am an elder. I am Old at Heart, chortle chortle (that is a reference, of course, to the 1954 classic, Young at Heart, starring Doris Day and Frank Sinatra, right? Everyone got that, right?).

                                                              ~~~~~


After open mic ended and people made their way to the dining hall, I was bombarded. People lined up for my sign up sheet. One aunty took my hand, sat me down, and began to tell me her story then and there. She told me her story for 40 minutes, and I would politely interrupt as I answered people’s questions, then get back to her.


I dined with my contact person at the VIP table. Learned that he himself does a monthly function where he highlights one senior, doing a full-length, two-hour interview of them onstage, in front of an audience in Hobbit Hall. We are like minded, he and I. Different forms of the same thing.

                                                              ~~~~~


After hanging out with 65-90 year olds for three hours, guess who was most tired? Me. Their energy was at an all-time high as I dragged myself out of the ICC and drove the 40 miles home.


Yet the elation I felt remained. For days.


I am going to do a pilot project this year and then start regular classes early next year, if all goes well.

                                                              ~~~~~

As I explore teaching yoga, dance and writing, I'm trying to see what pans out, what sticks, what I like. I like teaching dance. I enjoy teaching yoga. I LOVE teaching seniors any of the above.


A friend asked me, “Where do you see yourself in five years?”


I thought about it. I see myself teaching desi elders to write their life experiences. Making just enough money to have a couple of days to write my own stories. And go to Paris once in a while.

I can't believe it's happening, that my dream, which I only said out loud a few weeks ago, is ... becoming clearer. That I'm on the path. That the path is plucking all these parts of my life and seamlessly bringing them together, as if it was all part of the plan.

Trippy shit.


Friday, October 7, 2016

Change

Change isn't always noticeable. Not to oneself. You're there doing the hard work, therapy, yoga, meditation, journaling, self-reflection, yet you don't always see your progress day to day.

I did, yesterday.

I sat in my new yoga training, in the same studio I had been in a previous training the year before. Back then, I had been so congested, so head-just-above-water-but-often-going-under-and-getting-water-in-my-nose. When I was asked to close my eyes, I would get agitated. Sitting up was hard. Going inside myself was hard. My eyes would remain open, my brain would continue to be on overdrive. I dropped out of the program halfway through.

Yesterday, I sat in the same room. Went right inside myself when my instructor asked us to close our eyes. There was quiet there. Sitting was doable. Being still was doable. I noted this was all possible because I do all this everyday. At home. I used to think I'd never get to a place where I had a "home practice" and now, my home has a yoga corner which is brimming with things: bolsters, straps, incense, books.

Don't get me wrong, there is still plenty of things I'm working on. Plenty of tumult. But the point here is there is also plenty of stuff I have worked through, or have made a dent in.

And that, to me, is so important to notice.

This bad-ass yoga teacher in this bad-ass program I'm in said, "Yoga reveals. It reveals your shit (my words, not hers), it reveals the work you need to do. It reveals things as you're ready to receive them."

I have plenty, plenty work left to do. And today, I just celebrate the work that's been done.

I celebrate each thing that is settling in, taking root:

~ my beautiful, beautiful apartment

~ building friendships, slow and steady

~ new mentorships, healing and grounding

~ starting and stopping and starting and stopping and starting to budget, eat better, exercise

~ a new business- what? Yes.

~ new classes in all the things I dream of teaching

~ new ways of being, interacting- even when the old ways want to jump in and take over, always noticing the new options at hand, implementing them even though the old would be so easy to slip into

It sounds dreamy as I write it here. It is hard as a motherfucker. There have been tear, sobbing out loud many a night (perk of living alone). There will be many more sobs. Many more bright moments. More and more roots setting in.

"For how long?" I often ask my therapist. "How long do I have to do this hard work?"

Can you guess her answer?

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Happy One-ish-month-iversary, Bharosa!

It's been one-ish month since I launched Bharosa.

I've had some wedding/sangeet choreography clients.

Started a Beginners' Bollywood dance class on Grand Ave.

A new yoga class at the queer gym near my house.

Stopped the Beginners' Bollywood dance class on Grand Ave.

October will bring two new dance and classes at a lovely studio in Berkeley.

And a writing class at a beautiful studio with a fountain-y garden.

                                                               ~~~~~

High highs. Lowwww lows.

Constant ego check.

As my wise filmmaker friend said, "Whether there are 10 people at the screening or 100, it's still the same film."

Whether 10 people came to my classes or 2, I am still the same film. That is, I still teach what I need to teach. With the same quality, the same enthusiasm, the same intention.

Not always easy. But with constant checking in with myself (and journaling and therapy and weeping on my yoga mentor's shoulder), I am doing it.


                                                                       ~~~~~

I fell off the horse. When zero people came to my dance class, I freaked out. Stopped planning my writing class. Feared so much that the same thing would happen. Took a month of hiding my head in the sand. Pretended that designing a flyer whose font was the exact right shade of blood red really did need to take up a week.

I got back on the horse. I won't be teaching the 6 week workshop I thought I would. There just isn't time now, with the holidays approaching. But I can teach a one-off workshop. And I will. After all, I have the perfect blood-red font to advertise for it. Can't let it go to waste.

                                                                       ~~~~~

I have told myself this year is an experiment. To see what sticks. What I like. What pays. What I really want to focus on.

What am I liking? I am LOVING teaching yoga. Chair yoga to desi seniors. Deep Relaxation yoga to Oakland cool kids.

I've started writing short pieces about yoga for the gym. Loving writing in this way.

                                                                       ~~~~~

Is this the way to do it? Who knows. There is no way. I get to make the way. Because this quote from who knows where:



How does it feel? Like this:

Quote from a dear friend, who started his own business 10 years ago and today, is doing shit the way he wants and is, as the youth say, killing it.
                                                                           ~~~~~

When things get too crazypants or I don't know what to do next or I notice a pile of hair on the table which I've pulled out without realizing it, I stop. Go outside. And remind myself why I'm doing this: to work with underserved folks, whether they be older adults or needing financial assistance, creating offerings that are accessible. To earn enough money so I can write. Bus. That's all.

                                                                            ~~~~~


PS. Do you not agree the blood-red on the yoga poster is just right? Don't even get me started on the Bollywood poster: blue, pink, blue OR pink, blue pink?


    



Monday, September 19, 2016

Bit by Bit, Putting it Together

There is this song called Bit by Bit, Putting it Together, by an artist who shall remain nameless till the end of this piece so don't judge me. The song often plays in my head these days as I set up this business of mine.



I ordered business cards today.

No big deal, you may be thinking. Think again.

Altogether, the process took months. Came together bit by bit.

Here's the card.

Front of card



Back of card


I felt so elated when it all came together.

What's the big deal, you ask?

Lemme tell ya.

First, there was the thinking about my business logo. Coming up with things that were overly complicated. Asking a dear friend and incredibly talented artist to work on one for me. She did. It's perfect.

Then, there was choosing a color (branding, marketing, consistency, you know).

There was the google phone number which I had to a) understand b) choose c) remember to answer my phone for.

Of course there was my website, which took months to  make and years off my life.

I asked a friend, a talented artist, where she got her biz cards. Looked at Moo.com. Freaked over the prices. 

This friend had her own artwork at the of each card. I totally stole took inspiration from that. Researched inspiring quotes on creativity. Forced myself to choose just one (I was using a super-budget company who wouldn't individualize them for me).

I pilfered business cards all over town. Studied them. Looked at what I liked, what I wanted mine to look like.

I put it all together. Spent a few hours moving text a millimeter to the right and left, up and down. 

Finally, I told myself to step away from the computer. To just click "buy" and walk away.


~~~~

It amazes me how every single aspect of starting my own company takes so much time, effort, care, obsessing, thinking and rethinking, knowing when to eventually bite the bullet, knowing when to let go.

Especially when you have somewhat of an artistic eye, somewhat of an (over)analytic mind, so that aesthetics matter, language matters, a millimeter to the right vs. left matters.

But when it all comes together, it is beautiful. Thrilling. All mine.

Oh, and it is also important to celebrate every step along the way. Check.



PS. The aforementioned artist is Babs (Barbara Streisand, you guys, get with the times), who has truly quotable songs, say what you will about her.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Dance Class: Take Two


Karan Johar said it best: life is Kabhi Khushi Kabhi Gham (translation, sometimes happy sometimes sad). Apt, right?

Last week, zero people showed up to my dance class. I was pretty gham.



This week, a couple of friends had said they'd come. One person had seen my post on MeetUp. So I expected three people. I was happy with three, because it was not zero.

In fact, ten people showed up. TEN. I was downright bamboozled.



So is it time for khushi? Am I happy? Well...


Kind of. I do know from prior experience that you can have ten people one day and two the next. So part of me is just stressing about next week's class.

And part of me (some people call it the inner critic, I call her Little Fucker, ) is nitpicking at everything that went wrong:

Like: the wires in the sound system was shot, so the music got super soft right away. It was like doing Bollywood in a church, so hush hush. Luckily, my dear friends fixed it by ramming my towel through the wires till the wiring was just so and the music was louder.

Like: I had a make-up fiasco- smeared eyeliner. It looked like a plane had landed on my eyelid, then skidded off the side of my face. During class, I wiped it off and went on, but for some reason (inner critic), I was upset by this inside.

Like: I went too fast. People had to ask for clarification for some moves.

The good news is this is all inner critic talk- the super ego, my therapist said. Mine's a little...large. So I have to keep her in check.

There were so many good things happening too:

Like there were TEN PEOPLE there.

Like my friends came. Made the long trek from SF at the end of a work day. To support me. I could feel the love in the room.

Like six brand new people came.

Like I had the foresight to make a sign up sheet that also asked how people heard about this class, which was marketing genius.

Like many people had seen my flyer. The one I'd distributed all over town.

Like the one person who saw my flyer at a restaurant. I had felt kind of silly leaving a Bollywood dance flyer at a Chinese restaurant, but it worked.

Like the people who came came from the MeetUp group I made last week- the group I made after assessing and improving things, instead of just giving up and complaining.

Like my friend hanging out after, so happy to see me.
Celebrating with beer and corn cake (yes, corn cake)
It wasn't till hours later, after my inner critic had feasted on my soul, that I watched the video we'd made for the students to practice with. I was shocked. Everyone looked so good. I sounded so confident. Like ... a dance teacher. And whose awesome choreo was that? Oh yeah, mine.

You couldn't see my make up. You couldn't tell I may have rushed some choreo. You just saw people dancing. A teacher teaching. Why couldn't I see the full picture right away?

Why do I get so bogged down by the not-perfect?


This inner critic is a cruel little monster. And she's just there, inside us. Mine can carry me away, like that scene in Up, like I'm attached to a bunch of balloons, floating away against my wishes. And even though a smaller, gentler voice calls to me from below, reminding me of the good, sometimes, I am too far gone to hear that voice.




But if I want to do this venture, start not one, but three new endeavors, I am going to have to beware my inner critic. See her. Acknowledge her. Not get swept away by her.

I am also going to have so much patience. A friend told me it took him a year to build his following. I'm on week two.

Let the games begin.










Friday, August 19, 2016

Put Away the Fly Swatter: Take in the Good

Ever notice how when something bad happens, or someone says something hurtful, you hang onto it for hours, days even? Sometimes these difficult experiences get so embedded that you may recall them years later and still remember them in vivid detail.

And when someone says something nice to us- we do such weird things, like "Oh, thanks, these earrings only cost $5," or "Oh, no, I actually put ON five pounds!". Someone complimented my clear skin the other day, and I went into this whole thing about how I'd eaten at Vik's Chaat House a couple of times in a row and gotten zits on my chin. Like, why?

In the past, I'd either do one of the weird things mentioned above, or I'd do this thing where I'd say, "Oh thanks" really hurriedly, almost impatiently, like their compliment was an imposition on my story, then wave my hand like I was swatting at a pesky fly, and continue talking.

I have really been trying to slow down and fully accept compliments these days. To take a moment and let it go inside me.

I am also noticing with all these new learnings in my life, it takes so much time to really internalize them, to make a true habit out of them. And, I'm sure you've noticed this too- we start to do these new healthy behaviors one at a time, feel like we've made progress, but then when something big happens, we revert to our old selves as if we hadn't made any progress at all.

I noticed I did this the other night, when no one showed up to my dance class. I was upset. I wrote about it immediately. But then the very next day, I got an email about my yoga class which had not one, but five positive things stated about me, and I swatted it away and continued to wallow about the dance class.

So at this point, I'm not going to beat myself up about that, any of it. But I did realize that I'd done this thing and I want to rectify it.

Because there's this, one of the greatest lines I've ever read in my yoga trainings: the practice is not about being perfect. The practice is about coming back to the practice (after you slip), over and over.

So I slipped. But I'm back. And I want to equalize things, my own perception of myself by doing some acknowledging of the good.

The good thing that happened this week is that I subbed yoga at a gym by my house. A gig I got by being ballsy-go-getting-hustling my way in. Good for me. Ten people showed up. That's more than I've ever taught yoga to at one time. I brought candles from home, and, of course, my lavender eye pillows.

I remember hearing my voice fill the room and really liking it. My voice that in the past was so soft, so quiet, so self-silencing, now rang through the gym, speaking from a place of confidence, of knowledge. Confidence that came after two long years of struggling with my yoga practice, dropping out of one of my programs, coming into another. Confidence that came from a place of having done the hard work. Of learning and practicing and healing.

I led the class in a thirty minute meditation, which I'd never done before. I took a moment before entering the gym, grounded myself, brought in my good intent and energy, and it was from there that I powered through the nervousness of doing something new.


I don't remember what I said, but I saw someone smile. At one point, I made the whole class laugh.
People have told me I'm funny but I've swatted them away. People have said my writing is funny, but I've said, "Pshhhh, I want my writing to be Serious. I want to make people cry, not laugh. Only then will I be a Real Writer." Where do we get these notions?








It's not like I plan my jokes out, but there is always intentionality when I make jokes in my classes. I want people to get out of their heads, stop worrying about being perfect, relax and have fun.


The yoga class had been at a small, independent gym, and the owner really cares about her clients. She emailed them for feedback about me straightaway. Then forwarded me the whole string of emails. I looked at it with eyes that were still blurry from a night of crying. It took a moment to realize what I was seeing. There were five emails strung together. Offering really honest feedback. Really positive feedback. About ME.

Here is what they said:

The meditation class was good, it was a good balance of guidance and silence, and she kept the meet-you-where-you're-at, no pressure vibe.

I thought she did a very nice job.  Autumn had said that the Yoga would be more restorative than strenuous, so that expectation was already set.  

I liked Phi a lot. She practices a more restorative, less athletic style of yoga than Autumn, and I thought it complemented the meditation class well. I did think the meditation class was a little unstructured. I'm used to Autumn talking us through stuff, and Phi's long silences took getting used to. Not that that's bad; it's just an adjustment.

She was great! Loved the restorative yoga session even though I missed Autumn ;) Phi was kind, funny, and attentive. She fit right in.


Yeesh. That's a lot of really positive things. It's hard to record them here, for you all to see. But I am. It's hard not to swat them away and talk about the things I didn't do perfectly, but I will try. 

And I invite you to put away the fly swatter too. The next time someone compliments you, see if you can just say, "Thank you." It may feel like a root canal at first, but just try it. 

Once you get used to that, see if you can really take in the compliment. Hear it. Believe it. 

Down with fly-swatters*

*also known as fly-flaps, which, for some readers, are bringing up a whole nother trauma:)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

The Next Day, She...

Yesterday was difficult. No one showed up to my new dance class. So what did I do next?

I don't know if it's because I'm a writer or because I've seen/read more rom-com/chick-lit than I care to admit, but I woke up this morning and I swear, I heard a narrator narrating my every thought, my every move.

The next morning, Phi awoke with a heavy head. Kept her eyes closed and contemplated her day. A bed-and-Netflix day seemed quite called for. Or a meet-a-friend-in-a-park day. 

But as Phi lay there, she knew this was a seminal moment. Her first set back. How she responded mattered. It would set the tone for years to come. 

Phi cracked open one eye. The sun shone onto her Green-Tea painted walls. The walls she'd painted herself over Christmas hols (I'm still stuck in Bridget Jones land, the ultimate chick-flick/narrator movie). She'd done that by herself. She could do anything by herself. Well, almost anything, she thought with a chuckle.

She realized she didn't want to lie in bed all day. She wanted to email Darnell, send him her dance poster for the studio's website. She wanted to make a Meet-Up group for her East Bay dance class. Maybe craigslist wasn't the best way to advertise...after all, she certainly wouldn't look for dance classes on craigslist...

She realized that lying in bed with her eyes still half-closed, she was already working, planning, getting back on the proverbial horse. And it felt good.

At this point, I swear, I heard Upbeat Energetic Music, you know, like a little bass-guitar riff, like when the chick flick star's about to fix her life good. Like when Bridget Jones gets on that stationary bike, or when Kevin Bacon laces up to dance around the barn. In fact...

Phi got out of bed, put on tea water. As she dressed, she turned on her playlist for her dance class. As she danced to her own choreography, she felt rejuvenated. It was good choreo. It was fun choreo. It was her choreo. 





She decided to dress nicely, put on big earrings, a pretty blouse (it's a tank, I don't actually wear blouses, but my narrator is staunchly British).

Though she had told herself she would not check Facebook for the rest of the week- it wasn't healthy to rely on others for validation- she did. 

There lay message after message from close friends and acquaintances. With words like:
honesty
persistence
funny
strength
love you

An old high school friend had taken the time and care to write a message to her, talked of her own experiences. 

"And remember, the number of people is no reflection on you (although it is good for the ego). I've played the same film to hundreds of people (who gave it a standing ovation) and to a single person in a lonely rented classroom (where the screen rolled up half way through because the tech guy forgot to adjust the settings). It's still the same film."

It's still the same film, Phi repeated. She wrote the line on her whiteboard. Traced the quote with her palm. 

How often this phenomenon had been experienced all over the world, throughout time- creating something with love and care and experiencing a rocky start. She certainly wasn't the only one. In fact, she was now part of a club, of risk-taking self-starters. A club she was proud to be part of. She was earning her stripes.

A friend texted- "Hi Philicious, how was class?" Another friend texted, "Sorry to read about the no-shows last night." 

Phi thought back to how alone she'd felt the night before. She wasn't alone. People kept her in mind. She had to remember that. She had written the night before about how she was in transition and still forming community. Here it was: her forming community. 

She did not have a Charlotte/Samantha/Annoying Redhead posse, but she had friends, cheering for her from across the Bay, across North America (that's you, PDot), across the world. And for now, that was enough.

She arrived at her neighborhood coffee shop, ordered a strong coffee and fired up her laptop.

There was an email with feedback from a yoga class she'd subbed two nights earlier. One she'd fretted she'd sucked at. Five people had given feedback. All of them had liked Phi, found her kind, attuned, and even funny. 

This, too, was transition. Learning yoga, teaching yoga. Finding her voice, finding her path. 

She was doing it. One bit at a time. Some things were successful. Some things were set-backs. Some things she had no way of knowing how people received. 

Her job was to just carry on.

She took a sip of coffee, and typed a new email.

"Dear Darnell..."


Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Worst Case Scenario

In the name of honoring the downs as well as the ups-
my 'trying not to cry face'. 
In my blog entry of six hours ago, I thought the worst case scenario of my new dance class would be one new student showing up. I was wrong. Worst case scenario is actually zero students. And right out the gate, my worst case scenario unfolded.

I spent the afternoon eating a good meal and trying to relax, get some positive energy flowing. My sister, Sharlene, called and gave me a rousing pep talk. Motivated, I decided to own this shit. Cut up a shirt and made it cool dance teacher-y. Did my hair and make up. Put on big earrings and bangles that alluded to Bollywood but were understated, Oaklandish.

Darnell, who was supposed to let me in, showed up three minutes before class was to start, but it hardly mattered as there was not a student in sight.

The studio faces Grand Avenue, a happening part of Oakland, full of restaurants and bars. I turned up the music. Put out my sign up list. Business cards. Class flyers. Tried to look busy. Approachable. Like I wasn't crying inside.

I waited 15 minutes then packed up. When you've envisioned a thing a hundred times, it's easier to face when it actually happens.

Darnell came back to lock up. I tried to glean information. Turns out he co-runs the studio with the man I'd been in contact with.

"You should have talked to Dan, he'll help you get going," Darnell said. I had tried. Dan had not been helpful.

"You should have made a flyer," Darnell said. I had, but it hadn't been put up at the studio. "Oh, wait, I think that's my job," Darnell said. "When it doesn't say the studio's name, I throw it out." I pointed to where it did say the studio's name. "Oh. My bad."

Darnell promised to get word out to his students. I told myself this is what it's like to work with creative types. But I'm a creative type, and I don't do things this way.

I sat in my car and cried, the full moon lighting up Lake Merritt across the way. Called my sister, Fiona, who said all the right things. I tried not to be hurt that none of my friends came to support me. Tried not to go down the rabbit hole of no one loves me and I'll die alone.

Because the truth is, my life is still in transition. New neighborhood. New business. New friends. I don't have my Bridget Jones/Carrie Bradshaw posse who comes to all my shit and is always a phone call away. I am still forming friendships, forming community. A new start is amazing and difficult.

I came home, fried up some turkey bacon and made a smoothie. I sat in my beautiful apartment which overlooks San Francisco (okay, fine, if you look over the phone wires and rooftops, you see a three inch view of San Francisco, but still).

"One day, people will have to pre-register to get into your class," Fiona had said.

Maybe that was true. Maybe not. What is true is that this whole year is an experiment. To see what works and what doesn't. And sometimes, you do everything in your power but some things are out of your hands.

Now that I have some turkey bacon in me, I can see the silver lining: at least I have my awesome "the day that no one came to my new class" story under my belt. It can only get better from here, technically speaking.

But as I said in my earlier blog entry, the only thing I can't do is not do.


The Things I Carry

Tonight is my first Beginners' Bollywood dance class. I am 1% excited, 99% scared.

For the past three months, I've been underground, planning and scheming and preparing my three-pronged plan: teaching dance, yoga, and writing. I've designed classes, designed posters, designed a website. I imagined a big party to officially launch this new phase of my life, but life happens so out of order, that suddenly the day of my first class is here, a random Tuesday in the middle of August and there has been no party, just hard work.

For tonight, I have prepared a dance to teach. It is basic, 'for beginners' as advertised. It incorporates elements of classical Indian moves, bhangra moves, and silly Bollywood moves. It is thought out and thoughtful because that is how I teach. I have planned a warm up routine, and a cool down routine. As back up, I've planned a dance that is just designed to play with some fun Bollywood moves. In case my dance routine goes by super fast. It is a fine line between preparation and anxiety. I carry this with me.

I have advertised on Craigslist, at coffee shops and online event calendars. I have harassed friends on Facebook to come to my new class. I've done all I can. 

Yet the voices in my head say I should have done more: I only distributed 250 flyers, I had bought 500. I should have made a meet up group. I should have posted flyers in Berkeley, not just Oakland. 

I tell myself it's not a big deal, it's only a four week class,-if it tanks, it'll be over soon.

But it is a big deal. It's more than this one dance class. It's the start of a journey. A journey which began with me saying, "Fuck it, I'm doing my own thing." 

Here are the stats on what people think of the "Fuck it" model of business: 

80% this think it's a bad idea. That it'll fail. This is not how you live life.
10 % are admiring/envious
7 % are whole-heartedly supportive
3% are on the same boat as me

I carry that too.

I carry remains of the last dance class I taught, over a year ago, through the Berkeley YWCA. At best 6 people came, at a low, 1. 

Sometimes it helps to think out the absolute worst case scenario, so I do: worst case scenario, tonight, no one shows up except Annie, my adorable friend who has agreed to take some photos for my website. We go get coffee next door. After I cry in the bathroom a while. Less horrible: 2 or 3 people show. I've taught 2 or 3 people before, I can do it again.

I think of my first novel. The one I worked on for 7 years, or is it 10. That I sent out to 40 agents, heard no thanks from 10, and then 'gave up'. Do I give up too easily? Will I fail at this because of that? Somewhere in the back of my mind, I know this is not entirely true. There is no real failure, we learn from every opportunity, etc.

The only tiny sliver of hope is the thought that came to mind during this morning's (very fraught) meditation session: I can't not.

I have to do this. I can't not do this because the risk of failure exists. That would feel even grosser than all this anxiety swirling around my stomach does.

So I'll befriend the anxiety, carry it with me, along with everything else. It, too, is part of me, part of this journey. 

For the remainder of the day, I will carry this poem by Rumi, cling to the sliver of hope in the last stanza: 

The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.

A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.

Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they are a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.

The dark thought, the shame, the malice.
meet them at the door laughing and invite them in.

Be grateful for whatever comes.
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
      
                                                     ~ Rumi