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:
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