Tuesday, November 29, 2011

All Riled Up and Ready for the Big Push

If I were pregnant, the title might mean something entirely different, but thankfully I am not pregnant and I am referring to the big push that happens twice every year. It is called "finals" time.

The "finals" themselves are not the problem, the problem is all the loose ends that have as of yet gone untied or un-severed and must be either tied or severed by the end of the next three weeks.  And, the process of tying and severing as it goes (even when it goes "well") just plain sucks. It the worst part of teaching as many teachers know and agree.

What happens is: all the students realize 3 weeks out that they are screwed, and they all want you to do something about it.  It is rough being the one to explain that they dropped the ball, that they did it to themselves and now they have to live with it. Not a fun conversation.

True, I am a softy. But, that is because I believe that I need a break every once in a while and therefore my students probably need a break too. I draw a hard line where it "matters."  but I am basic just too darn empathetic.  And, even if I don't give them leeway, I still find myself continually barraged with email or unsuspected visitors to my office hours who are desperate for an ear if nothing else.

I was a good student. Truth be told, I was an excellent student. I only ever got one B+.  Ever.  That is how determined to succeed I was. It has less to do with smarts and more to do with conviction. I wanted it, I wanted the information, I wanted to learn I wanted to grow and change and explore and write. So, the A was a natural result (most of the time).  So, when it comes time to give out my grades. It hurts me to give out B's in a tap I or a modern I class, but I have to get over that.  Not everyone tries as hard as I do, and frankly not every one gets the required results from their effort.  Not everyone is "natural" at math and not everyone is "natural" at dance.

What am I doing here?  You don't really care about this, or if you do (because you are a teacher) you already know exactly what I am talking about, and therefore I am preaching to the choir.  The reality is, that I am writing this for my own benefit. As I write this blog, I am trying to convince myself to let go.  To ride the last wave of the semester like a relaxed surfer instead of a nervous and rigid grandma.

I have a lot to do. And tonight, I calendared out the rest of the semester. Probably not the best thing to do right before trying to go to bed.  Now, I am all riled up.  Anxious to get the work done that has to get done whether there is time for it or not.

I tell myself: "Everything I do now, I don't have to do later." And, this motto helps.  But, at 11:30 pm when it is time to sleep, I shouldn't be considering going online to grade.  I just shouldn't. Those papers will have to wait another day.

But those days are running out.

Oh, the sound of the ocean.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Healthy Obligations

I have a feeling I might not get anything done if I weren't obliged to get it done.  For example, I am very lucky to be a part of the Language of Dance® family (LOD®). This group of amazing dance instructors and pedagogs have included me in their adventures toward changing the face of dance literacy.

I sat on their panel at NDEO (National Dance educator Organization) and presented my findings, focusing on using dance theory and notation in an online dance appreciation course, with humility as I was surrounded by these women of profound knowledge, passion and dedication to dance and dance research. I am honored they consider me a colleague. But, this honor is the best motivator for work.  In being included on this panel, I have become obligated to them.  I feel a duty to them because they believe in me. They push me to make steps in my thinking and research that I otherwise would not take. 

I am very fortunate to have tenure at my job, and, because I am not at a research institution, I don't have to publish or present at conferences in order to keep my job.  But, these women motivate me to keep going. I want to make advances in dance research and dance literacy, and the best part is that I am not obligated by survival but by an inner sense of duty and obligation. Clearly there is no money to be had from these hours of pouring over a computer. But, there is honor.

I enjoy being obligated to them, because they challenge me to be the best I can be.  In the past two days I wrote up my portion of the panel presentation and it turned out to be 8 pages single spaced (about 3,000 words) plus graphics.  I would never have done that if I weren't obliged to do it.  Trust, me, my crochet project, tv and latest book are all calling my name right now!  But, I am glad I put in the work, ook the time, thought through the ideas, made something out of nothing. 

It feels good.

I am similarly obligated to my dance company (MeCo), (again NOT for the money-- no money there either-- do we see a trend developing?!?).  I am obligated by my fantastic dancers, their dedication tot he projects and their unending trust in me. I won't let them down because I am honored to work with them each week.  In a similar way I am obligated to my students (but that gets messy because that is my job-- but still, I am obligated and committed to it heart and soul so it too pushes me to be better).

People talk about "self-motivation," but I am not quite sure there is any situation that solely allows for self-motivation.  I think it is healthy to be obligated to others.  If I waited to do things out of self motivation, I would get half as much done.  It is easy to waste away the days. 

So, thank you to everyone to whom I have been obligated at one point or another.  You have pushed me to become a better person, to do more than I thought I was capable of and grow in ways I never expected. 

Still, obligations (good or bad) can make you sleepy, which I am right now. So, it is time for me to say goodnight!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Update on the Spending Moratorium

( If you have not already, please read my previous blog Holidays are near: Time to stop buying stuff!! of which this is a continuation. . . )

I will be honest: this Spending Moratorium is hard!  I am surprised at how often I think about buying things.  It turns out that I think about buying something 3-4 times a day (if not more). I really had no idea it was this bad.

Now, that doesn't mean I used to go shopping 3-4 times each day before making my decision to stop purchasing. It just means that even knowing that I won't be buying anything, I am shocked at how often I entertain the idea of buying something.  I contemplate buying things all day long.  You probably do too. And, I didn't realize this until now when I have drawn the line and said "no" to spending any money on things for myself. 

My thought process is incredible:  I am purchase occupied at almost every turn, all day long, big and small things:  A new pen because I don't have one in my purse, and I am going to a meeting, a pack of gum while out when I have a pack at home and in my work desk, a new holiday CD I came across unexpectedly, a new book I was told about, a new hair clip because I forgot mine at home, a cute candle that happens to be on sale, fabric for holiday card making, when I know I have equitable materials at home.

It sounds absolutely ridiculous when it is listed out. I am embarrassed by it. But these are the types of things I would be purchasing on a day to day basis, here or there, not all at once but as the "need" arose.  I have realized over the past 4 days that I already have too much cute stuff and the world is filled with more cute stuff. It will always be filled with cute stuff.  I have to just deal with it.

I was blessed to have a friend ask me to go shopping with her (for her) on Tuesday.  I shouted YES! I love shopping.  And, this way I could enjoy it without coming home with anything for myself. It was the perfect opportunity to practice NOT BUYING.  I purposefully left my purse in the car.  Not because I really thought I would have bought something, but because I didn't even want the option of it.  We had an absolutely great time. This friend hates to shop for clothes for herself and hates to spend money.  She had gift cards and was in need of a new work and winter wardrobe.  It was a perfect situation for me.

I glided around the racks, finding shirts she overlooked and choosing colors that she would have never picked up.  She tried them on and one by one was amazed at what I pulled for her. I felt like I was on one of those Style shows.  I choose dresses, blouses, blazers, sweaters and quickly dismissed her glances at horizontal striped sweaters and baggy shapeless tops.  She really liked what I picked out and ended up purchasing some beautiful garments that were sophisticated and well fitted. 

There were only a couple times I saw things that tempted me.  But, I enjoyed them while I looked and then asked myself: Would I come back for this?  Would I go out of my way to purchase this or ask for it as a gift?  Do I already own something similar?  The respective answers being: No, No, Yes.

The reality was I was happy to be able to shop and enjoy the stores and the styles. But, it felt great to leave without bags in my hands. I didn't need anything. I didn't buy anything.  And, I didn't have to make space for it in my closet when I got home.

It was a good day. 

I should leave my purse in the care more often. 

The Spending Moratorium happily continues. . .

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Twitter for Mindfulness

Perhaps you have read or heard about Mindfulness. If you have read any of the more popular Buddhists texts by Thich Naht Hanh or Pema Chodren, then you have certainly encountered the idea even if it was called something else.  Likewise, if you practice yoga and have ever performed pranayama (breath control/meditation) or seated meditation then you have practiced being mindful. 

But, the practice of mindfulness in daily life amidst work drama, family crisis, personal health issues and the rest of life's curves balls takes practice and discipline.  I would like to present an unexpected mindfulness tool I recently discovered: Twitter.

Yes, I was one of those people who "didn't get Twitter" and scoffed at the ridiculousness of "saying something in 140 characters or less."  I only got my Twitter account (@BethMegill) a couple months ago because I was feeling desperate with my dance company, and knew I needed to try something new to broaden Megill & Company's (MeCo) exposure.  So, I created a Twitter account in my name.  No hiding behind anything, no ulterior motives. Everyone would know who I was, and I had to be ok with that. 

I didn't really post anything until about two months ago. I didn't know about RT (retweets) or hashtags (which I always knew as a pound sign). The, I drew the line and made a decision: I will tweet despite all my concerns and misgivings about it. I have to at least TRY it.  At first, it felt weird to post what I was thinking, what I was doing, and what I saw at any given moment, but it gradually became part of my day, and I found that you can say a lot in 140 characters. And, sometimes it is just a pointer to more info which is often very useful/entertaining/interesting. 

But, the best and most unexpected benefit of Twitter has nothing to do with my initial motives at all. I discovered that in making Twitter a part of my day, I was making reflection part of my day.  Twitter was helping me become more mindful! 

I find that Twitter helps me to put things into perspective as I find myself in sticky situations or frustrating states of mind.  In deciding what to post, I have to make a decision about what I want to say. And, in deciding what I want to say, I have to make a decision about what is important to say.  And, in order to decide what is important to say I have to decide what is import (period!).

This has become an excellent practice of mindfulness. I often wonder what I will tweet next.  "Is this important?" "Is this interesting?"  "Is this worth sharing?" I realized that these questions were not for any of my "followers" but for myself. Through this reflection, I am really asking: "What is important to me?" "Is what I am doing interesting and worth doing?"  "Am I making decisions that I am proud of and will feel comfortable sharing with others?"  Twitter makes me accountable to myself.  It helps me lead the life I want to live by reminding me to stay true to my beliefs and values.

I find that I have been more relaxed, more productive, more playful, more joy filled, and more interested in general. I see the world as more real because I have my eyes opened.  Of course I am excited when someone responds to a tweet (just as I am when you respond with a comment to this blog). It is exciting to think that something I have shared has given someone else joy or a moment for pause and reflection, but ultimately I tweet for myself and what the practice gives me on a daily basis. 

We shall see how long this trend lasts, perhaps it is just a phase that will come and go as so many things do.  But for now, I am grateful and appreciative of how this program (that I bad mouthed and snickered at for so long) has actually deepened my practices.  Thank you Twitter. And, special thanks to those who follow and share in my practice. You are my sangha

Sunday, November 20, 2011

If you have a moment. . . I could use your help

So, as I have previously explained in this blog, I am committed to a poetry group, and we are going to take a show on the road in May.  But, unlike the other more prolific writers, I am the newbie, writing here and there, inconsistent at best (but passionate!).  We have a reading in Dec at the local mall. Oh, yes. It will be epic and you should come.  But, first I need to write, write, write and then I need to pick something to actually read.  The writing part is less intimidating, I mean I can write stuff if i sit down and do it. Whether is is good or bad though needs to be determined. My current challenge is figuring out what poems are worthy of performance.  This is where you come in.

I just wrote these poems this morning.  Let me know if one speaks to you. You don't even have to tell me why.  Just let me know so I can get a sense of what might be good material to further work on. And, if you don't like any of them do not worry. I will try to post more and maybe there will be something you do like down the line. 

Thanks for your help!
Write on!

Midnight Dance
It starts.
slow and fast
hard and soft
all at once
in time
without a moment's hesitation
anew and glorious
silver and gold
Another night of applause
effort expended and sweat perspired
costumes worn thin
showing bare threads
like spindles of muscle fiber
feet and ankles crack and pop
a chorus of aching joints pushed to their limit
Music plays inside the soul
melodies unravel stories to be danced
I hum and lull myself into the trance
in time
anew and glorious

Three months in
Three months in
I notice
a depression on my finger
a ring of commitment that lies pale underneath
the promise ring
even with the thin band
I notice
its weight on the tissue of my finger
daily impressions
wearing memories of our partnership
And this three months in
just three months
so powerful is love
and the promise of forever

Inside the skin
There is a grumble
something has changed
i notice the body behaving like
and intractable child
yelling at me in response to my abuse
waking me int he middle of the night
to scream and shout and cry
it can't be calmed
Inside the skin
inside the tissues
there is rebellion
I don't know when the demonstrations started
I don't know when the body first began talking back
Was it always shouting and I just never
stopped to listen?
Now like blown out speakers I can't shut out the
Powerful messages inside
the knots of my core
wondering when their cries will finally be heard

Other poems from former posts. Bugs. Another Garden Poem.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Holidays are near! Time to stop buying stuff!

The holidays are coming, and it is time to start buying gifts and presents. I love to buy gifts and presents, probably because I love to shop, and I love a good reason to shop. I like finding treasures to give my loves ones. It is fun to think of something (big or small) that might give them a smile or be useful to them.  But, over the last decade or so, it has become near impossible to buy something for someone that they need but "haven't been able to get."  I'm sure you have experienced it the same as I.  If you like me, we already own what we want. We buy what we need and don't think twice about getting what we want as soon as we want it. 

The thing is, I am creative enough to find something fun to buy, make or share as a gift for my loved ones even when it seems they have everything.  But, when asked what I want for the holidays by my sweetheart husband, I realized that it might be near impossible for someone to shop for me, because I don't wait to buy anything. If I want it, I usually buy it. (Let me clarify that I don't buy in egregious excess. But, I do shop and do buy stuff I don't need but I still want).

Just the other day I heard an interview on NPR and promptly went home and purchased the kindle version "before I forgot the author and title."  It was only $10, so it seemed like a reasonable purchase.  But, seriously. I just bought a book 5 minutes after I heard about it, in part, because I didn't want to forget the title.  I paid ten dollars for the convenience of not having to remember or, oh say, write down the title of a book someone might be able to buy me for the holidays.  Sure, I will read it, and yes it will be a worthwhile purchase, but I need to show some restraint, otherwise I will buy the world before December!

So, I have made a decision.   I need to go on a buying moratorium.  More specifically, I can't buy something for myself that is for pleasure.  I will still buy food and groceries. But, no more scarfs, shoes, books, socks or candles.  No more.  First of all, I don't need it anyway, but secondly, I want to feel the joy of receiving when the time comes.  I am too accustomed to getting things without a wait, without a struggle, without a moment's pause.  I want to feel the joy of waiting and receiving with relish.

Honestly, I am a little worried that I won't make it until the holidays.  I know it will not be easy for me.  I am embarrassed to say, I am THAT spoiled.  I lead a luxurious life, where my cost of living is low enough that I can afford little things here or there, and so I buy them.  It will be a challenge to not buy.  But, I have to do this. It is time to scale back and to rediscover the pleasure of receiving a gift.

Expect updates. This might be interesting. . .

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Book Review: Women, Food and God

I have recently been sharing with friends the concepts in a book I just finished called, "Women, Food and God" by Geneen Roth.  My mom read the book first and recommended it to me. I then saw the author on Oprah (before the show ended) and put it on my kindle reading list.  I then promptly forgot about it for a good 4 months.  Turns out, it is a great book and gave me a new perspective about compulsive eating and food addiction.

As a tall dancer, I have often been dissatisfied with my body composition.  I have never been seriously overweight, but by dancer standards I carry more general "insulation" than most in my field.   I naturally have a long, muscular build, a proportioned torso and nice legs (so I have been told).  But, my 5'11" frame always skewed my sense of size.  Being taller made me bigger in a world of smaller and thinner.

Im result, I always felt big, being placed in back and selected as the dancer to lift others and rarely the lifted one.  I always got the largest leotard and could never squeeze into the cute, vintage outfits we borrowed from the theater department.   I abandoned ballet because being partnered by a ballet boy of 5'7" was not an option.

So, needless to say, there has always been a shadow of disapproval of my body shape, a nagging feeling that I shouldn't eat that last roll, second helping or second cookie. 

Roth's book was a refreshing take about interacting with food in a way that really made sense to me.  She stresses eating what you really want, eating when you are hungry and quieting the body enough to know when you are full.

Sounds overly simple perhaps, but the magic lies in the fact that following these simple "rules", you take away food's power and the the connotations you have tied to it over the years. 

By constantly depriving yourself of the heavenly piece of chocolate cake or yummy plate of spaghetti, you have developed a system of guilt associated with food. In other words you begin to believe that eating the cake is "bad" and therefore you are "bad."  Likewise, we have learned to reward ourselves with a food "I've been so good. I can't break the rules this ONE time!"  Again, this is giving undeserved power to something that is fuel and might be tasty, but certainly doesn't revolutionize the world.  Finally, we equate eating with self sabotage or loss of control. We numb our mind and hearts by stuffing our stomachs.  But, that just leaves us in no better place.  On the other side of the bag of Kettle chips, we feel just as troubled and now additionally guilt ridden.

No food should have power beyond the enjoyment of its taste and the nutritional value it provides.  By trusting in Roth's system, you can relearn these basic facts.  You step outside of the diet game of chutes and ladders. By taking away the power of the food as a slave to soothe you or a weapon to punish you, food finally loosens its grip on you and (gasp) can even become undesirable when it is not needed. 

This was a hard thing for me to relearn.  I had become so attached to food that leaving anything on the plate seemed crazy.  How could I possibly leave something that tasted soooo good?  It turns out, that I can and should.  Not to deprive myself, but as a practice of being honest with myself. 

I realized that I have been clogging my system with excess and that is part of what has been making me feel bad periodically.  Too much food physicality makes me tired and exacerbates my depression. 

But all of this is just a precursor to the most insightful thing I learned about myself by reading the book.  Roth challenges us to identify when we are physically hungry and when we are hungry for something else (eating for any other reason).  In thinking about my own life I realized that I have been eating for two main reasons other than being hungry:

1. Fatigue
2. Fear of future fatigue

I thought eating would help me stay awake and alert, but what I really need to do is rest (or at least let go of the fear of being tired).  Strange that just the fear of being tired is enough for me to eat.  But all that excess was just dragging me down.

The best part of all of this is that I am getting over the guilt of eating.  Eating is becoming more enjoyable because it is no longer forbidden.  Now the candy bar sits on the table because I am not forbidden to eat it. It holds less sway over me and doesn't taunt me with its presence.  And, when I want to eat it I will and it is no big deal. 

It feels good to let go of all the anxiety surrounding this aspect of my life.  It frees my mind and energy up for more productive endeavors. 

A welcome change and one I thought I should share.

Have you read the book? What did you think?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Tech Week Tantrum

Part of my job at Moorpark College is directing the fall dance concert.  As with most projects, I love-love-love the creative process. The brainstorming of ideas and excitement of new creative possibilities.  I love the promise of potential that fills the air at the inception of a project or concert.  I dream big.  I like to revolutionize myself and the process each chance I get.  I can't help but want to push the envelope, push my limits and try something I have never done before.

But, this stage of the concert process is long gone.  And, when I reach this point of no return (7 days before the concert) I can't help but think.  "What was I thinking?"

This concert I have choreographed a fun and ridiculously fast tap dance, a physically demanding and powerful modern dance trio and a crazy, large ensemble piece (complete with strange walks, trench coats, boots and screaming). 

Did I mention I dream big?

The thing that I am learning is that my creativity is in some ways its own vice.  I can't help but get excited about new ideas, creative trains of thought, and potential "awesomeness" in general.  I love to generate ideas, ways of working, aesthetic systems, choreographic projects. 

But then it comes time to do it and actually make it happen.  And, I find myself here in "Tech Week"!

For those of you outside of the performing arts, Tech Week is the time the production uses to move into the theater, set lights, practice with costumes and generally go mad from fatigue at that same time.  

Admittedly I write in anticipation.  Tech week technically starts tomorrow.  But, as always, it promises long hours in a dark theater, after which your butt is numb, and you can't quite remember what day it is, if you need to eat, nor if you went to bathroom in the last 5 hours.  It is not all that terrible. It can actually be fun. But it is (or at least has been) always exhausting.  Imagine functioning on adrenaline and caffeine for 12 hours straight but not being able to go any where or see the light of day for three days straight. 

And, who am I to complain? The technicians do this all day long each and everyday, project and project, production after production.  But, I am to a point in my life where I have become more protective of my energy and health.  I am less willing to burn myself out the way I used to.  I guess I have learned that the production "hang over" just isn't worth it.

Life goes on after a dance concert just as it did before.  Yet, the show will not make itself.  It takes time and energy, focus and patience.  It takes hope, creativity, and diligence.  Perseverance perhaps most of all. 

I want to find a way that I can enjoy Tech.  Am I crazy to think it might actually be possible to put on a dance concert and not lose my mind or sacrifice my physical health?  I have reached a point where I no longer want to push through. I don't want to just "make it happen."  I don't want to live my life wishing these next two weeks were already over, when this is what I love to do.

I want to love it while I am in it.  Not just before and after. 

It is time for me to make some changes in how I work.  I want to teach the dancers that it feels good to work, create and perform (and it feels best when you don't kill yourself in the process).  The reward needs to be in the process.  My students run themselves so ragged that I am afraid they miss the entire experience.  Sure they always "get through."  But they are sleep walking through it all. 

I know because I was too. 

It is time to wake up.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Childless in Suburbia

I am 31.  My new husband is nearly 41.  We do not have children and so far are not planning on having them.  But I am realizing that not having children is tougher than it looks and not just for the reasons you are imagining right now (haha!-- You!).

Being childless and specifically choosing to be childless is not the norm. Perhaps we would fit in better in Germany where birth rate is way down or a big city where all the people are career driven and "independent." But, here in suburban America, we are the oddballs, and because we are the odd-couple-out in family oriented Simi Valley, it is highlighted most every day. 

For instance, yesterday was Halloween.  And, up go all the pictures of all the children in their (ridiculously) cute costumes in emails and on facebook.  Scrolling down my fb news feed, I see picture after picture of cute toddlers romping around in cozy costumes.  And, and I can't help but think. "Wow. . . I am living a very different life." 

I don't want this to be misinterpreted as bitter.  It is really much more of an observation about my life, where I live, my relatives and their life spaces.  I realize that I am not experiencing life the way so many couples are living life right now. I am not concerned with the elementary schools in my district, whether there is a dress code, how I am going to afford a child's tuition, nor how I am going to keep them awake and smiling through their drowsy-tantrum time before bed. 

I have to believe I am just as busy and concerned in my daily life, just about other things. But, because I am not experiencing life in the same way as my friends and family members, it is hard to create a feeling of being "in it" together.  I am realizing more and more how friends are born out of enduring the same or similar life challenges. Getting through undergrad or grad school, putting on a performance, competing in the same bowling league.  When you are in it together, you can't help but connect.  The same enemy drives you together whether it be, late night papers, lack of sleep, giving a shouting kid a time out or losing on a 7/10 split to your rival team. 

So, it is hard to hold a conversation about feeling depressed or stressed at work when your poor friend or sister is up to her ears in dirty laundry, a screaming child, dinner burning on the stove and a child coloring the walls.  And, likewise who am I to offer her advice or comfort! 

It creates an unfortunate gap that takes more effort to overcome than I expected.  I will go so far as to say that it takes more effort to maintain a long and established friendship with someone who is currently not "in it" with you than someone new who is "in it".  Being "in it" together makes the here and now relevant for both parties.  

We shall see how things shift as toddlers become children, become adolescents. . . But according to my mom (who is both wise and observant) life with children is always about children. (Perhaps it would be less so if my sister and I didn't call her so regularly through out the week! Love ya Mom!)

I say all this with the full knowledge that I may change my mind and that Dan and I may decide that we will have children.  But, for now the decision and the observation stand, and I am left to wonder who else might be in my life space so we can be "in it" together.